An Altar to the Lord in the Heart of the Land (Isaiah 19-20)

Isaiah 19–20

"On that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the center of the land of Egypt and a pillar to the Lord near her border" (Isa 19:19, HCSB).

  • In both Canaan and Egypt the storm god was depicted as riding on a cloud (Isa 19:1).
  • At least twice in Egypt's history a period of total political breakdown followed a period of absolute monarchy. Isa 19:2 seems to reflect knowledge of this tendency.
  • Egypt was easily the most idolatrous nation in the ancient Near East. Only surpassed by modern Hinduism.
  • Egypt was famous for its ancient wisdom. The first known collection of proverbs comes from Egypt (1900 BC?).
  • The (Philistine) king of Ashdod fled to Egypt for protection in about 707 BC (Isa 20:1). But the Assyrians threatened Egypt and demanded that they give up the Philistine, which they did. So much for Egypt's protection.
  • Ch. 20 tells us how little we know about the life of Isaiah. Evidently he had been wearing burlap (garment of mourning) for some time previous to 707, but then took even that off. It seems likely that he had on still a loincloth, but nothing else, imitating the dress of captives who were carried off into exile.
  • At this time the ruling dynasty in Egypt were Ethiopians (Cushites).
  • The Persians (Elam) and the Medes captured Babylon in 539 BC, ending the Judeans' exile in Babylon (Isa 21:2).
  • The meaning of the imagery in 21:7–9a remains a mystery.
  • Dumah (21:11–12) was an oasis deep in the Arabian desert where Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king lived.
  • A caravan route came across the northern Arabian desert to Dedan, Tema, and Kedar, sites in Edom (21:13-17).
  1. What would the Egyptians be inclined to turn to in a crisis (Isa 19:1, 4)? What about America in a time of crisis? (Think of the aftermath of 9/11.) What does this say about us and our faith?
  2. What was the source of Egypt's wealth and power (19:5-10)? What is going to happen to it? As far as we know this prophecy was not literally fulfilled. What is the enduring theological truth being taught by these statements? Why should we not put our trust in natural abundance?
  3. What is the reason for trusting Egypt in this stanza (19:11-15)? What will their wisdom be unable to tell them (Isa 19:12)? What is the significance of that? What should the proper attitude of Christians be toward their leaders? What should we do, and what should we not do?
  4. In 19:1–15 three possible reasons are given why Judah might trust Egypt–what are they and what will they amount to? What is the lesson for us?
  5. How many times is the phrase "in that day" repeated in this passage (Isa 19:16, 18, 19, 23, 24)? What do you think is the significance of the phrase, and what is the significance of its repetition?
  6. What are 19:16–17 saying about the meaning of the historical events that are going to overtake Egypt?
  7. What are 19:18–25 saying about Egypt's future? What does this say about the wisdom of trusting Egypt for deliverance from Assyria? What should the Judeans be doing in regards Egypt in the light of this message?
  8. Why would God ask Isaiah, who was apparently educated and cultured, to undergo such humiliation as this (Isa 20:2-3, 1-6)?
  1. Look at Isa 21:9 to see what nation "the wilderness of the sea" is referring to (Isa 21:1)? Remember what was said about the glory of this land earlier (Isa 13:19). What might be some reasons for calling it by this term?
  2. If God has brought down Babylon (Isa 21:2), why is he grief–stricken in Isa 21:3–4? To understand Isa 21:5 see Daniel 5.
  1. What is happening on the caravan routes according to Isa 21:14–15?
  2. Isa 21:16–17 seem to swing back to Isaiah's own lifetime when perhaps the Assyrians devastated Edom's trade. Why might this have been included with a prediction of events in the far future?