Egypt and Assyria Serve the Lord
“In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’” (vv. 24–25).- Isaiah 19:16-25
Egypt enslaved the Israelites for centuries, yet its relationship with Israel did not end when Moses led the people out of Pharaoh’s hand and God destroyed the Egyptian army (Ex. 12:33–42; 14). Solomon married the daughter of a later pharaoh, which was a common way to cement alliances and secure peace between kingdoms (1 Kings 3:1). Judah later sought Egypt’s help against Assyria (2 Kings 18:21). Still, animosity between Egypt and the children of Jacob never fully ceased. After all, many decades after Isaiah died, Pharaoh Neco killed King Josiah of Judah (2 Kings 23:28–30).
Thus, ancient Judahites must have been astonished when they first heard the prophecy recorded in Isaiah 19:16–25. The prophet foresaw a day when God would reveal Himself to the Egyptians in a terrifying manner that would achieve Egypt’s salvation. Let us consider a few ways Isaiah conveys this truth. First, he speaks of “five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts” (v. 18a). This refers to a conversion so thorough that the Egyptians would even speak Hebrew, the language of sacred Scripture. We need not take this as a literal prediction of five God-worshiping cities in Egypt (though it might be). Humanly speaking, it was unthinkable for even one city to serve the Lord because pagan Egypt hated Him so. The image of five converted cities shows how miraculous the conversion would be.
Second, one of the cities is “the City of Destruction” (v. 18b). The Hebrew terms for “destruction” and “sun” are easily confused by the human eye, and several ancient manuscripts of Isaiah indicate that the original term was likely the one for “sun” (copyist errors likely led to the Hebrew for “destruction” appearing in some other manuscripts). It makes sense for Isaiah to speak of “the City of the Sun,” which was Heliopolis, the center of the worship of the sun god Ra, a chief deity in Egypt’s pantheon. If even “the City of the Sun” would serve God, then Egypt’s salvation would be a miracle indeed.
Finally, Egypt and Assyria would be accepted into the people of God on equal terms. Isaiah 14:25 features God referring to Egypt as “my people” and Assyria as “the work of my hands.” The Lord usually reserves these designations for Israel in the Old Testament (Ps. 138:8; Jer. 11:4). That He can give them to Egypt and Assyria indicates their full conversion and incorporation into His chosen nation.
Today’s passage also speaks of an altar to God in the midst of Egypt (Isa. 19:19). Matthew Henry sees this as pointing to the worship of God in spirit and truth in all places as Jesus describes in John 4:21–24: “In Christ Jesus all distinction of nations is taken away; and a spiritual altar, a gospel church, in the midst of the land of Egypt, is as acceptable to God as one in the midst of the land of Israel.” When the Lord’s foes become His followers, they may worship Him anywhere.
Passages for Further Study
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