12–18 November 2017.
Egypt was one of the great superpowers of the ancient world. For centuries they dominated the region around the Middle East and Northern Africa. And even when Egypt’s strength started to weaken and Assyria and Babylon began to rise to power, the Egyptian rulers still kept influencing politics by starting revolts in neighboring countries and trying their hardest to pull down other nations. They meddled in other countries’ affairs, made trouble and sowed unrest wherever they could. Sadly, as one of Egypt’s small neighbours, Israel was often a victim in these political plots.
So it’s easy to understand why in Isaiah 19 we find a prophecy condemning Egypt, and describing God’s coming judgement on that great nation. According to the prophecy, all parts of Egyptian life will suffer: their country’s politics, society, agriculture, economy. Even their nature will suffer, right down to the grass of their fields.
This type of angry prophecy against Egypt isn’t surprising. But what is surprising is that this is not actually a prophecy of destruction, but a prophecy of healing. Yes, God will punish Egypt; but the hope is that through this punishment God will actually heal the Egyptians of their sins and bring them back to God.
The Israelites probably weren’t very happy to hear that. When we human beings think of judgement, we want that judgement to destroy our enemies and kill them. We see that in Taiwan whenever people discuss the death penalty: people actually want a fierce judgement that kills others. But thankfully, God’s judgement isn’t like that. God’s judgement brings healing and change. As we read in v. 22, yes the Lord will strike Egypt, but he is “striking and healing”. Like a doctor, God’s judgement drives away the disease of sin so people can be together with God again.
That’s why – even though it may have made the Israelites angry to hear it – this chapter ends with a prophecy of great hope: the the major warring superpowers of Egypt and Assyria are not going to be destroyed by God. Instead they will be united in peace and will even receive God’s blessings. Instead of destroying the enemy, God will join these nations together in peace, and join them together with God. Once the enemies are healed of their sin, God will be able to rejoice and say, as he does in v. 25: “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands.”
Pastor Stephen Lakkis