The burden of Egypt. Who is the "cruel lord"? The conversion of Egypt.
We have found, I trust, something of a "living issue," as it is termed, in each of the "burdens" that have preceded the one to which we have come, and this surely should lead us confidently to expect no less from that most ancient seat of civilization, Egypt. How often is the inspired Word of God treated as if it were nothing more than a profane and very imperfect history, a kind of companion to Herodotus; and if these two authorities are not in exact accord in any detail, the writer who makes no claim to divine enlightenment and control, is considered more trustworthy than the one who does. Yet, our learned professors fear to assert plainly that the claim is fraudulent, for, like their fathers, they too "fear the people, for all (Christian) men count" Isaiah to be a prophet.
Unless, then, we can see something beyond a mere account of the doings of a people whose bones have long been mingled with their kindred dust, something that is of living importance to ourselves in this very day, we might well say that these Scriptures were not worthy of being called a divine revelation at all, and deny that their human authors "spake as moved by the Holy Spirit." So long then as we are assured that this claim to divine inspiration is not false, but well-founded, so long are we bound to seek the deeper truths, not seen on the surface, for superficial details, like those bones in Ezekiel's valley, may be "very dry" (Ezek. 37:2). May the Spirit of God then breathe on these dry bones of historical detail and geographical situation and make them "live."
If any land bears a share in providing types for us, "on whom the ends of the ages are come," it is Egypt. As the taskmaster of God's Israel, it speaks of those fleshly lusts, to the hard bondage of which the child of God is first awakened, and groans. Then, in another point of view, it is, as here, the world, in its complete independence of God. All Egypt's wealth is in her Nile; and she cries, "My river is my own!" Every year its swollen flood bears down a rich alluvial deposit, which covers her desert sand with that fertile soil on which her very life depends. Strange river of blessing! Of its source, those who enjoyed the blessings it brought were quite ignorant, precisely as the world has ever accepted, and does still accept, the providential blessings that "fill hearts with food and gladness," as a matter of course, without any thought of whence, or from whom, they really come. But the correspondence goes further, and comes to our own present day, for as explorers have discovered the sources of the blessings of Egypt's river in a chain of lakes, so of late explorers in the field of science have discovered the natural source of everything that comes to men in their life here. But might it not be asked: Are those lakes, Albert and Victoria Nyanza, after all the final source of supply? Let the heavens withhold their rain, and how long would it be before those lakes themselves had to acknowledge that they too were dependent on the heavens? And should God withhold His mercies in providence, how long would it be before the world would have to own that no science that excludes God as the great First Cause can be anything than "falsely so-called"? It is not "science," or what is known, at all. In this chapter we see that lesson taught and learned.
In a still more spiritual sense, let the professing Church, let any individual practically, in conduct or in doctrine, neglect or reject the Lord Jesus, the Head, whence all nourishment proceeds, then in proportion to that neglect, the fountains and rivers of refreshment will dry up and eventually send forth only the "blood" that speaks of death. Alas, that it must be added that is already the character of the outflow from many a pulpit, from many a seminary, from many a college even today.
So again we may read the future even in the past, remembering that Isaiah is not a historian, but a prophet, and while he speaks of an Egypt of the past, we must discern one of the future, nor can we close our eyes to present conditions in Christendom, so nearly approaching those that shall then obtain.
The chapter divides as under, and I would beg my readers to note the beauty and order of these clearly marked, and, I can but believe, divinely intended divisions. Note, too, once more the prominence of "three"; for it is "God manifesting" Himself.
First triad: verses 1-15, Jehovah's intervention in judgment and its result.
1: Verses 1-4: in internal discord.Second triad: verses 16-20, Jehovah's intervention in grace, and its result.
1: Verses 16, 17: Egypt fears Jehovah.Third triad: verses 21-25, Jehovah responds in grace.
1: Verses 21, 22: The healing of internal discord.The first strophe opens grandly with Jehovah entering Egypt on His swift-rolling chariot, a cloud. At once false gods flee, and there is universal internal disruption. Mutual distrust and animosity between those who, by their common interests, should be united, is ever the evidence of God's activity in judgment; as the opposite, love and confidence and the dwelling together in unity, is the "good and pleasant" evidence of His intervention in grace. We shall see both in our chapter.
Let me attempt a free paraphrase of the grand original, at least seeking to give the true sense:
1: See Jehovah swiftly riding into Egypt on a cloud:Most solemnly does this apply even to our own day. In a scene that has turned from Him, a necessary preliminary to divine intervention in grace, is divine intervention in judgment. Mark then, the consequences of that intervention. The "religion" that held the people together fails to do so longer; and as if they had lost all powers of self-control and were bitterly insensate, those with common interests destroy one another!
This may have occurred more than once in the antitype of ancient "Egypt," the "world" of Christendom, but never has it been so sadly emphasized as during recent years, in that unfaithful witness.
As to that "hard lord" of verse 4, history tells us that he was not an external conqueror, but a native despot, and "kingdom against kingdom" exactly suits the twelve small kingdoms into which Egypt was split up after the Ethiopian dynasty was overthrown in B. C. 695, until Psammetichus brought all under a single monarchy, and he is "the hard lord." So much for the history, but history here is divine prophecy, and we, as the last verse most clearly shows, are looking to what is still before us. We find in that Psammetichus merely one of several types of that internal oppressor of whom we hear in Dan. 8:23, "a king of fierce countenance," and in whom is to be seen (not the Assyrian, who is never represented in Scripture as dependent on another, but) the veritable Antichrist, the second Beast, from the land, a "hard lord" indeed, to the little remnant of faith whom he persecutes (Rev. 13:11-17). Note the well-known trinity here too; internal in this strophe, external in the next, and eternal in verses 21-25. It is a Fingerprint.
But now we see the severity of Jehovah's intervention in the failure of all material resources:
5: Waters fail from Egypt's sea: Egypt's Nile is parched and dried.Egypt's wealth, as already said, practically consists in her river, because of its volume here called a sea. When that is dried all her prosperity is shriveled and disappears. The rainfall on the land of lower Egypt is utterly insignificant and insufficient, as Deut. 11:10 and Zech. 14:18 tell us, so the Nile becomes the only source of Egypt's prosperity. We may, without much uncertainty, see how terribly there has been the correspondence to the loss of that wealth in the present condition of the civilized world. It cannot be insisted upon that this prophecy has been, or is being, literally fulfilled in this day, or ever will be, in the literal, complete drying up of the Nile; but that there is a most remarkable, clear and significant correspondence in the spiritual sphere, will be denied by no man who is in the least thoughtful.
The rain, or blessing, from the heavens has stopped, and the result is a drying up of the source of prosperity; the natural consequences of that are told in a depression affecting all classes, from the highest (pillars of the State) to the discouraged and even despairing laborer. Let Christendom turn away from Christ, and the description of Egypt with a dried river will apply.
But further, when God intervenes in judgment, how all human wisdom is proved to be but folly! This the next strophe emphasizes:
11: Fools are all of Zoan's2 princes! Fools are Pharaoh's men most wise!Again I say there is not a reader of these lines but will recognize what a true, if sad parallel our own very day presents to this picture in the utter inadequacy of all the wisdom of Christendom. The very "corner-stones" (as Egypt's princes) of the nations, their wisest and best, are seeking some plan that shall serve to ward off another such holocaust of death as that of the late war.4 How vain the effort! They desire to attain permanent peace while the prince of Peace is rejected! They would dispense with the return of Him to whom this earth belongs, and from which we have banished Him. Not one single idea have these great men of earth that the universal peace for which they long can never be brought about save by His return to assume the Sceptre which is most justly His by the double title of creation and redemption. The motive for peace in itself cannot be stigmatized as evil. It would be nothing but senseless fanaticism to condemn the desire to prevent the bloodshed and unutterable misery that ever accompanies war; it is not that which is "wicked." But how evil is the refusal to own the claims of the Son of God, or more correctly, in this connection as having this title to the earth, of the Son of Man! How evil to close the eye to the universal sin that has alone brought the universal suffering! How foolish to deny the root, the sin; while deprecating the fruit, the misery and bloodshed!
The disgusting, repellent picture of a drunken man staggering in his vomit, is not far astray from that picture presented by the bewildered counsels of all from the best to basest; the noble palm and the mean rush, i.e., the wise statesman and the ignorant proletariat, all are evidently equally incompetent to guide the ship of Christendom, laboring against contrary winds and heavy seas, to the quiet harbor of established Peace where they would be. Let the King come, the King of the kingdom of the heavens, let Him return in power and great glory, and lo, as in the early morning of His coming to the disciples as they toiled on stormy Gennesaret, then immediately winds were hushed, waves subsided, and at once "the ship was at the land whither they went"; so, and only so, shall the present storm cease, and this poor distracted earth shall be where it desires, basking in unbroken peace in the healing rays of the Sun of Righteousness. But our hope shall be fulfilled long before that, in His coming as the Bright Morning-Star.
Now we come to what must always precede the manifestation of the Lord for any deliverance, whether of the individual, or as here, for that of the earth.
16: In that day shall boastful Egypt be like women in their fear,In verses 16 and 17 we have Egypt's terror at the evident favoring of the cause of the faithful remnant of Jews by Jehovah: a strange people, "ever terrible from their beginning hitherto." Her resources dried, her wealth dissipated, and during all the time of her increasing impoverishment, the Jews coming more and more into their own; Egypt, standing for the Gentiles, at length connects cause and effect. She sees that it is not mere "chance," but Jehovah's Hand that is swinging over them, and whether it be national, or in the secret place of the individual conscience, there is trembling.
That one section of the Jewish people has often been a factor in the revolutionary movements of the day, wherever they may have occurred, cannot be denied, any more than that it was a Jew who assassinated, with all his family, the former Autocrat of all the Russias; or than that Jews formed a large proportion of the earliest Bolshevist Government in Moscow; while along other lines in the assembly of the League of Nations, the Jew's voice is heard, and it is by no means a plaintive, timid, or uninfluential one. The Jew is the coming man. Have we not just been reminded that he is "terrible from his beginning"?
But this is not alluded to here in this chapter. Jehovah is not shaking His Hand over Christendom in favor of Bolshevism. When He does thus shake His Hand, it shall be manifestly in behalf of a poor penitent and lowly people who are themselves suffering from persecution of the most virulent type. Egypt is recovering, and that recovery is in six successive steps, each marked by the words, "In that day."
The second recurrence, in verse 18, tells us that this repentance on the part of Egypt is genuine, as it shall be on the part of that innumerable mass of Gentiles whom we see in vision peopling the new earth in Revelation 7:9-17, for here, too, we begin to be introduced into a millennial scene. "Egypt" shall not then fear and flee from, but fear and turn to Jehovah.
Verse 18 is difficult, nor is the difficulty lessened by the uncertainty as to even the correct text of the last line. But after considering all the alterations suggested, they appear to be so arbitrary, that I can but conclude that the safest thing is to accept it as it reads in our A.V. Then the verse amounts to this: out of six cities in that regenerated Egypt, five shall speak the language of Canaan, and thus evidence that they have indeed turned to Jehovah. Have we not, too, learned to speak in a tongue that has become to us our "mother-tongue"? It has a vocabulary of its own to express those holy truths that "Egypt" knows nothing of, and so has no words for. How many words has a Christian ceased to use since he turned to God? How many words never used before are now in his mouth? He looks with profound distrust on the modern claim to "tongues" that edify no one, but only make the speakers prominent, and greatly fears that while they are admittedly under the influence of some spirit, that spirit is not holy. The speech for which he longs is that which is "alway with grace seasoned with salt," and that shall be "good to the use of edifying" (Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29)—that is our language of Canaan, and these five cities adopt that tongue.
One city in that renewed "Egypt" still speaks the old tongue, and it gets a name to correspond therewith, for it is called "Ir-ha-Heres,"5 or "The City of Destruction." This at least would perfectly harmonize with this being a millennial scene, for that is never represented as a perfect one, any more than the Christian's present condition is a perfect one. He, too, has still some of the dwellers of that doomed "city of destruction" within him, and will have, as long as he is in the body. They give him a good deal of trouble at times, as the beloved Peter found on one occasion when he returned to the old language, and was still able to speak it all too fluently; see Matthew 26:74. So in the millennial day, there will be an evil element still in the earth; the children of pride, "the city of the sun," yield but feigned obedience (Ps. 18:44, marg.), and are really "of destruction."
In verse 19 we have a further "sign" of the genuineness of "Egypt's" conversion, for an altar is built to Jehovah, and a pillar for witness. But have there never been altars in Egypt till that day? Surely; plenty of them. Are there not plenty of altars throughout the professing sphere of Christendom? Surely there are. Rome has her altars on which she offers her bloodless sacrifice of the Mass that can never take away sins, but the Lord ignores them. Here, however, is one that at length He does own. It is not a Jewish altar in the temple at Jerusalem, but Gentile; and while of course it is literal, yet I believe there is a correspondence with that "altar" that is measured in Revelation 11. That is a Jewish altar by which the afflicted remnant of pious Jews is symbolized in the very beginning of the day of the great tribulation. It is not on earth, for all sacrifice and oblation has been made to cease; but God, their God, owns them now as He has not done for 2,000 years. So, here in our book, too, is the Gentile remnant, and here too is their altar, equally owned of God, and a clear sign it is of conversion. But whether Jewish or Gentile, we can but discern in the pillar a correspondence to that pillar that poor Jacob set up on the night of his distress, and welcome one more figure of our Lord Jesus Christ. There shall surely be, not only a Jewish remnant, but an innumerable host of saved Gentiles in that millennial day to which both this prophecy and Rev. 7 point.6
Now for the fourth recurrence of the term, "In that day." It is the first of the third series, and so full of sweet anticipation that I beg of you to note its strong antithesis to verses 1 to 4. It is the healing of that internal discord there foretold.
Though "Egypt" is thus converted, it does not follow that there is no more need of discipline, any more than in your own case or mine; but whereas in that far-off day in the past, when Israel was in bondage there, Jehovah smote them with no gracious healing following; in that future day it shall be as it is now with us; in the very blow that smites there is a tenderly gracious purpose of healing. No sorrow that He sends but has in it that gracious intent for His child, and each individual evidences his birth by the spirit in which he accepts the stroke of the paternal rod. If he accepts it as the chastening of love, he is a true child; if he resents and rebels, it proves him to be a "bastard" and not a son. Egypt here has begun to know Jehovah, as it has never yet done, and owning the justice in the stroke of the rod, seeks mercy, and finds it in healing.
In the second of this series we get the penalty of verses 5 to 10 removed, and the recovery of material prosperity through unrestricted commerce.
In these strange and unexpected words of verses 23-25 (for who would expect divine blessing to be attached to such names as Egypt and Assyria?) a new earth lies spread out before our eyes. No barriers hinder the free intercourse of nations hitherto hostile and filled with mutual jealousies. No tariffs limit commerce; no "protection to home industries," for all industries are for all. There is no enmity; the road is quite free to all between those extremes, Egypt and Assyria. But these two names stand as representatives of the Gentiles in that whole happy millennial scene. Egypt, that ancient captor of the Lord's people, would be the human representative of "corruption," as Assyria of the opposite evil, "violence." No longer do these Satanic principles characterize these nations, but rather Light and Love, the dual characteristics of good.
As it is impossible even to think of the blessing of God resting on wickedness, such as we have been compelled to identify with both Assyria and Egypt, so are we compelled to see in this Egypt and Assyria symbolic representatives of all the Gentiles, Israel completing that trinity which shall in that blessed millennial scene compose the whole of mankind. Nor, I take it, is this in the least strained or without the simplest and clearest proof from Scripture.7 Egypt is an apt figure of the characteristic evil linked with weakness, "corruption." Assyria is ever that strong one who represents that evil of the strong, "violence." There was a day when all mankind was found of God to be divided between these:
"The earth also was corrupt (i.e., Egypt) before God, and the earth was filled with violence" (i.e., Assyria).
Thus the two forms of evil included all the earth, which of course is a word that speaks of its dwellers; the family of Noah then representing the third component of the human trinity here, Israel.
We shall not greatly err if we go a little further, and as in Genesis 6 God makes man's incorrigible evil the ground of the infliction of that dire penalty, the deluge, so when He smells the sweet savor of Christ's sacrifice for that evil, He makes poor man's hopelessness in evil the field for the display of His grace. "I will not curse the ground any more for man's sake, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21). So here in Isaiah the curse is removed, the blessing takes its place, for the sweet savor of Christ has intervened; and although the names remain the same, it is a penitent, converted Egypt, a self-judged and lowly Assyria, that now make up the inhabitants of that fair scene.
No longer, too, do "all roads lead to Rome," but rather to Jerusalem, or through Israel's land that lies directly in the path between Egypt and Assyria. Was not this the ancient gospel preached to Abraham: "In thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," and again after the offering of Isaac: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed"?
But that "Seed" is not on earth yet; He is at the right hand of the Father, and His presence "adorns the heavenly throne"; hence the blessing that comes forth to us Gentiles now makes us to correspond with the heavenly host, the stars; for, "So shall thy seed be," was God's promise to Abraham as he looked at the star-spangled sky. But the Lord Jesus shall return to the earth, and when He is here, then Israel shall be as the sand by the seashore, the center of blessing for the earth.
Never then shall there be rivalry of armies, fleets of sea or air. In vain shall be the search then for Protestant or Romanist, for Democrat or Republican, for Monarchist or Anarchist, for Aristocrat or Proletariat, for Jesus, Lord of all, has caused the earth to bask in universal peace and concord; and He, the Melchizedek Priest, is here seen spreading His hands in blessing over the whole scene. Egypt, those of the Gentiles once expressive of corruption, are now His "people"; Assyria, those of the Gentiles once expressive of violence, are now "the work of His hands," and quite a different handiwork will they be then; while Israel, the long-wandering one, the once unfaithful wife, the disowned, and for a time castaway, is now the precious treasure that has long been "hid in the field" of this earth, and now is owned as His "inheritance." Christ, who now alone binds the Church in unity, as every saint confesses that He alone meets all his need, shall then bind the whole earth in unity of blessing.
1 By referring to the Revised Version, my readers will see that I have accepted most of its readings as far nearer the original. Here the dried channels emit a stench from the decomposing matter.
2 Zoan, the Tunis of profane history.
3 Noph, i.e., Memphis.
4 Never has this world seen such a sight as the representatives of over sixty nations sending the wisest men that they possess to take counsel together as to economics at London. It has been an utter failure. At Geneva the course taken by Japan has exposed the impotency of the League of Nations politically. A new religion is promised at Chicago that shall unite all the race. How these repeated failures cry for the return of The King!
5 "Ir-ha-Heres"—This name has been the theme of any amount of discussion. I simply quote Delitzsch's conclusion, which is so consistent with the genius of Isaiah's writings that it commends itself. "Ir-ha-heres" (meaning "City of Destruction") is simply used with a play upon the name, "Ir-ha-cheres." This is the explanation of the Targum: "Heliopolis, whose future name will be destruction," the difference in the writing of Heres ("destruction") and Cheres ("the sun") is almost infinitesimal: the city now called in pride "the city of the sun" shall in the future be termed "the city of destruction," as representing that evil that shall still be in the world even in the millennial day.
6 A modern school assures us that this "altar and pillar" must be found in one object, the great Pyramid; and it must be confessed that such a scheme is attractive enough to that nature that is still in us all, since it gives such mathematically explicit light on the future—so much so as to tell us that the length of the main passage of the pyramid makes certain that this era will come to its final conclusion in 1986. All such fixing of dates (and they are many) is both self-confuting and denied by the Scripture that tells us, "of that day and hour knoweth no man." This cult, too, is in close relation with the unscriptural doctrine that the "ten lost tribes" are found in the Anglo-Saxon race, which in itself is enough to empty this teaching of all real value or credence. The pyramid is now; the altar shall only be "in that day."
7 Let me quote from Delitzsch, "If Israel relied upon Egypt, it deceived itself, and was deceived; if on Assyria, it became the slave of Assyria." Note the two forms of evil.