Isaiah 18–20. Ethiopia-egypt, Past and Future. God's Concern For the Nations. Part III.
Key Notes: Egypt and Ethiopia tried to resist Assyria. Free will is a delusion. The future of Egypt and Ethiopia is quite bright.
A summary of this section, including the next lesson:
Isa.13–14. Babylon. Part I. The World Power.
Isa.15–17. Moab. Part II. God's Grief for the Insignificant and Lost.
Isa.18–20. Egypt-Ethiopia. Pt. III. God's Control over the Nations.
Isa.21–23 . God and the Nations. Pt IV. The end of a Cycle.
It is useful to think of Israel geographically as the handle of a dumb-bell with the upper weight Assyria -> Babylon -> Medo-Persia and the lower weight Egypt / Ethiopia. In the earlier period 1500–1000 BC, Egypt was the Middle-East power, extending her territory through Israel / Canaan up to the Euphrates.
From 1000–900 BC Israel under David and Solomon controlled the land from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates. In 920 BC Israel was split into two countries—Samaria / Israel / Ephraim , the northern ten tribes, and Judah / Benjamin, the southern two tribes.
By 740 BC Assyria was surging southward from Iran / Iraq toward Egypt through a much-weakened Israel. It would destroy Israel / Ephraim and weaken Judah, conquering all the little countries around--Edom, Moab, Ammon, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt and Ethiopia / Sudan / Somalia.
By 586–7 BC Judah would be deported by the Babylonians.
A more careful look at this period of wars.
734 BC Israel / Ephraim made an alliance with Syria against Assyria and threatened Judah, apparently because Judah would not join them. Isaiah assured Ahaz that the alliance would not survive, but that the Assyrians were coming.
732 BC Syria promptly fell to Assyria.
722 BC Ephraim / Israel fell to Assyria.
715 BC Egypt was conquered by Ethiopia and a federation was established.
711 BC Ashdod (near Gaza; head of the Philistine city-states allied to Egypt) fell to Assyria. The Egyptian king, who was in league with the Philistines, handed her king over to the Assyrians. Egypt was not to be trusted.
701 BC Jerusalem was besieged by Sennacharib, but the attack failed when tens of thousands of his troops died. The Assyrians then went around Judah.
680 BC Egypt was conquered by Assyria and Ethiopia was driven south.
610 BC Assyria was captured and replaced by Babylon.
606–586 BC Jerusalem was captured by Babylon.
539 BC The Medes captured Babylon.
Isa.18:1–6 The Egyptians ("by the Nile") were sending envoys to Ethiopia ("a nation tall and smooth"), to try to gain support against Assyria. Isaiah told them what to say when they went home: disaster awaits. Soon Egypt will be harvested, perhaps by Esarhaddon of Assyria.
18:7 But "In That Day" the Ethiopians, "a people tall and smooth," will bring gifts to JHWH Sabaoth in Zion.
The phrases “a people tall and smooth, a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide” is repeated at the beginning and the end of the chapter. It suggests that Isaiah admired the Ethiopians.
19:1–4 Egypt's immediate future was not good. Isaiah predicted civil war would disrupt Egypt.
In the middle 600's BC, Egypt in fact broke up into 12 little kingdoms.
19:5–10 The economy was based on the Nile. There would be a period of drought so that fishing and flax harvest (making linen) will fail and the middle class ("pillars") and the working force will be grieved.
19;11–15 The princes will be confused and give bad counsel.
19:16–25 But In "That Day" Egyptians will be afraid of Israel and five cities will belong to The Lord of Hosts, JHWH Sabaoth. Altars and sacrifice will be made to the LORD. Egypt will return to the LORD. He will heal them. There will be easy communication between Assyria, Israel and Egypt, implying political peace and spiritual unity between the three nations. " And there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant which is left of his people...." (Isa.11:16). [We would rejoice to see that happen.]
20:1–6 When the Assyrians took Ashdod, Isaiah was instructed to go barefoot and naked (with a loin cloth?) for three years as a sign to Egypt-Ethiopia that their exiles would be similarly shamed by the Assyrians. He was acting out the part of the captives with an application to Judah: if we in Judah fled to Egypt for refuge, that is what would become of us.
What a painful thing for a prophet to do! And why did he have to do it as a prophecy against Egypt and Ethiopia? Would they even hear the message, much less see him in this embarrassing state? We suppose that he had to make a daily appearance naked, but that he was able to cover himself against the cold at night. Ezekiel also had a difficult and embarrassing assignment which he balked at. Ezek.4:9–17
God is in charge of national affairs.
a. He has purposed.’:12
b. He predicted.‘:5; 20:4
c. He came to Egypt.’:1
d. He moves people.
"I will stir up…"19:2
"I will confound…"19:3
"I will give them over…"19:4
We believe in free will. We are responsible and we protest that we are also in control. The Bible emphasizes God's sovereignty and to that extent, we are not in control, although paradoxically, we are still responsible. ("Free will" is not a biblical expression.) We would rather have the center of power reside with us rather than with God. That means that we would rather have humans be stronger than God. One benefit is that we think it "protects" God from complicity with evil. It is the doctrine of the too-weak God, Arminianism gone wrong. The "openness" of God says that God is not in control of the future.
How can we process the idea that God is the power and direction behind Assyria and Babylon? He is using them to punish and refine Israel. But God does not countenance Babylon's pride and cruelty and will judge her for that. Jer.51:20–24
We might ask why God spends time telling us about Egypt-Ethiopia. It shows God's concern for non-Israelite peoples. It is also intended to counter the tendency of Judah to lean on Egypt. Isaiah repeatedly warned Judah not to trust Egypt. (30:2–7; 31:1–3). God wanted Judah to rely on Him, and the prophecy of the weakness of Egypt was intended to teach them that.
The future of Egypt and Ethiopia is quite cheerful. Ethiopia will pay tribute to God (18:7) and Egypt will know and worship the LORD.’:16–24. One of the cities will be named: "Heliopolis"--city of the sun.
Ethiopia was one of the first Christian nations, dating to the 400's AD. Today 58% of Ethiopians name the Name of Christ. Egypt also has a long tradition of Christian witness; Recently, 15% of Egyptians were Christians, although working under constant persecution by Moslems. Assyria is the third country mentioned (19:25). Iraq has (or had) 3% Christians. We must pray for the health and growth of these Christian communities.