A Sign and a Witness
Part 2. The raising up of Egypt
"In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the LORD of hosts; one shall be called, The city of the sun." (Isa.19:18 margin) Six times in this passage does Isaiah use the expression "in that day." Each time it is used to introduce one of the characteristic features of Egypt’s conversion and reconciliation to God, using Egypt as the symbol of the world of mankind "in that day." Particularly does Egypt picture the military and warlike aspect of the world, and hence this reconciliation that is pictured in this nineteenth chapter does show up in brighter relief than other prophetic writings the fact that "in that day" nations will no longer be at enmity but will live amicably and at peace with each other, in the knowledge and reverence of God.
In this 18th verse the stage of "terror" described in the preceding two verses has passed. The world is no longer in fear of this new thing that has come into the earth. They have now become used to the idea of a central world government operating from Jerusalem under the direction of the "Ancient Worthies," and although they do not as yet comprehend a great deal of the law that is going forth from Jerusalem they do, at least in the main, realise and accept the fact that it is going to be for their good. The world will be so sick of war and destruction by that time that it will at any rate be thankful to know that the time for that has passed, and that real security of life and limb and prospect of physical well‑being is henceforth its lot. That realisation will undoubtedly sink first into the minds of most men before the deeper implications of this Millennial Day will have impressed themselves, and men appreciate that they are called and required to come to the Lord Jesus in full surrender of heart and life if they are to continue in the enjoyment of these blessings.
Five cities are to speak the language of Canaan. That the world will speak a "new language" is fairly easy to appreciate. Men are to have turned to them a "pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent." (Zeph.3:9) This promise indicates how the law of the Lord and the word of the Lord, going out from Jerusalem, will be understood and re‑echoed by the world, and its terms repeated to each other by them, so that no man will need to say to "his neighbour...know the LORD: " for all shall know him, "from the least of them unto the greatest." (Jer.31:34). But what is the meaning of the somewhat strange expression "five cities" and why is it that one of them is called "The city of the sun"? (The text rendering "city of destruction" is incorrect and has been replaced by "city of the sun" in the margin). It seems a strange limitation; had it been seven cities the idea of universal turning to the Lord could well have been attached to it in accordance with normal Scripture symbolism. None of the orthodox commentators has any suggestion to make. But during the preparation of this treatise one interesting fact came to light. In ancient times Egypt was divided for political purposes into forty‑two provinces, twenty‑two in Upper Egypt and twenty in Lower Egypt, each province having a capital city, sacred to one or another of the Egyptian gods. Of these forty‑two provincial capitals, just five are mentioned in the Bible, and one of these five is the city of On, which in after days was called Heliopolis, a Greek word which means "city of the sun." The five cities so mentioned are:—
These five cities were scattered over the country, one in the Delta, two in Lower Egypt and two in Upper Egypt. Is it possible that we have here an indication that the "cities of Egypt," the nations of mankind in the dawn of the Millennial Age, will only speak the "language of Canaan" by coming into contact with the Word of God? Five cities out of forty‑two are symbolically to speak the new language. Five cities only of those forty‑two are mentioned by name in the Old Testament; none of the others have any contact with its narratives or its prophecies. One of the five, at least, is definitely identified by the Holy Spirit through Isaiah, as Heliopolis, or On, the city of the sun, a city which from ancient times had been sacred to Itum (Atum), the god of the setting sun. If this is indeed the intention then we have in this verse a plain intimation that the world’s salvation in the Millennial Day will depend upon two things; contact with the holy people of the Holy Land, and contact with the Word of God which is to be proclaimed from that land. The "five cities" of that future day would then automatically include all of mankind who have come into contact with the means that God has provided for their reconciliation, and those who will not avail themselves of those means and will not "make contact" must perforce remain unreconciled, until and unless the remedial judgments of the Millennial Age effect in them a change of heart.
"In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a Saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them." (Isa.19:19‑20). Moffatt puts the first phrase very clearly "an altar to the Eternal in the heart of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Eternal on the frontier." There are two separate erections indicated here; "altar" is "mizbeach," meaning an altar for sacrifice or offering, and used in the Bible to describe the brazen altar in the Court of the Tabernacle, the incense altar in the Holy, the brazen altars of Solomon’s and Ezekiel’s Temples, the idolatrous altars of the land, and so on. "Pillar" is "matstsebah," a monument or memorial set up to commemorate some event or agreement, such as the pillar set up by Absalom to keep his own memory alive (2 Sam.18:18), the pillar set up by Jacob to mark the spot where God had talked with him (Gen.35:14) and the pillar he set up to be a witness between himself and Laban. (Gen.31:45). It is necessary to realise therefore that this verse speaks of an altar of offering being set up in the centre of the land of Egypt, and a pillar of witness at the border or frontier between Egypt and Judah. Like the preceding and succeeding verses of this chapter, this verse is symbolic. "In that day," i.e., in the Millennial Age, there will be the altar of God, the place of approach to God, the place where acceptable offerings may be presented before God, in the very heart of the formerly evil and godless world of mankind. The world will no longer be able to ignore the message; neither will the Lord’s messengers be universally despised and rejected. The time will have come when will be fulfilled the words of the Psalmist "Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar." (Psa.51:19). The coming of perfect men to God in wholehearted consecration of life will be a common‑place in that glad day, and this offering of perfect manhood to do the will of God will be a symbolic "offering of bullocks" upon the Millennial altar. The fact that a few verses farther on the Egyptians are pictured as being converted to the Lord shows that this symbolic altar "in the midst of the land" does denote the avenue of approach to God which will be open to all men during that Age.
The pillar at the border speaks of something different. It is this pillar that is the "sign and…witness unto the LORD of Hosts" of v.20 "for they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a Saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them." The clue to the meaning of this symbolic "pillar" is probably to be found in the story of Jacob. When parting from Laban his father‑in‑law he set up a pillar to mark the boundary between their respective domains and to be witness of the covenant they had made between themselves. "This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm. The God of Abraham…judge betwixt us." (Gen.31:52‑53) That pillar stood as the sign and witness of a covenant of peace between Jacob and Laban, entered into in the name of God and with the blessing of God. So here in Isaiah, the pillar on the border of the land is a sign and a witness to a covenant of peace between Judah and Egypt under the power and protection of God. It is a sign and a witness of an alliance formed between the righteous nation which represents the nucleus of the Kingdom of God upon earth and the unrighteous world which, although it has opposed and fought that righteous nation in the past, is now to be blessed by it and led into the way of the truth. The world of mankind will be crying to the Lord "because of the oppressors" (v.20) and He will send them "a Saviour…and he shall deliver them." That Saviour, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ at his Second Advent when He is revealed in glory with all his saints for the salvation of the world. How clear it is, therefore, that, as the next verse tells us (v.21) "the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it." Thus is pictured the reconciliation of mankind to God and their eager coming to the source of instruction and blessing that they might learn of the laws of God’s Kingdom and willingly align themselves with them. It will be a time when, at last, men will perform before God what they have covenanted to do; a time when righteousness prevails and there is the tremendous force of public opinion encouraging men to walk in right ways instead of leading them to wrong ways as at present.
"And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it; and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them." (v.22). This is a further light on the characteristics of the Millennial Day; it is a time of discipline, of "stripes" for the wayward and rebellious, and it is not by any means going to be "roses, roses, all the way" for those whose hearts and minds have been degraded and brutalised by sin. The rule of the Millennial Age will be benevolent and merciful, but it will also be firm and just, and there will be many who will experience chastisement, chastening, "smiting" in the process of their recovery from sin and evil. But the smiting is to heal, according to this verse; it is not punitive but reformatory and we do well to take careful note of the fact for it represents a very important principle in the Divine dealings with mankind. The whole purpose and all the arrangements of the Millennial Age are for one end only, for the reconciliation to God, and the eternal salvation and everlasting life, of "whosoever will," of all who can possibly be persuaded to abandon sin and turn themselves to accept Christ and serve the living God. Speaking of a similar process with the Holy Nation at a slightly earlier date, God says through the prophet Ezekiel "I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me." (Ezek.20:37‑38). In that instance the reference is to the purifying of regathered Israel preparatory to their appointment as the earthly missionary nation that is to take an important part in the conversion of "Egypt," but the principle is the same. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth" (Heb.12:6) is going to be as true of Israel and of the world of mankind then as it is of the Church now. And the general result, as predicted by Isaiah, is that "Egypt," mankind as a whole, will return to the Lord, and He will heal them.
"In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt into Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance." (vv.23‑25).
A wonderful conclusion to the chapter; a picture of universal peace! Throughout Israel’s history Assyria and Egypt were alternately at warfare with the nations around Palestine, or with each other, marching and counter‑marching across the fair lands of Judah and Israel and ravaging wherever they went. The picture of a highway between the territories of these two great empires, with the citizens of both passing and repassing upon their lawful business, must have seemed a very unlikely one, especially in the days of Isaiah, when Assyria and Egypt were locked in a death‑grip which had to end with the crushing of one. But that is what Isaiah saw, a day when the contending factions of mankind would have resolved all their enmity and jealousy into that calm and quiet fraternity which is to be the hallmark of the next Age. The highways of that day will be the highways of peace, and war and violence will be no more.
Perhaps there is a covert allusion also to the outcome of the conflict that brings about the end of the Gospel Age, and prepares the way for the Millennial Age, the conflict that Daniel describes under the symbol of a battle between the "King of the North" and the "King of the South." Assyria and Egypt, geographically north and south of Palestine, could well fill that role in symbolic imagery. Whoever and whatever are the powers and forces in the end of this Age that are represented in Daniel by those two kings, it is certain that their violence and their warfare will not extend beyond the close of this Age, after Armageddon. "In that day," the Assyrian and the Egyptian will be equally conscious of a great chastening that has taken away from them all desire for further sallies at arms. The highway connecting Assyria with Egypt will be a quiet, a peaceable, and a joyous one.
The next verse adds the connecting link that makes this possible. Assyria and Egypt are made one because of Israel between them acting as peacemaker. Thus is symbolised the beneficent work of the Holy Nation, regathered Israel, under the guidance and instruction of the glorified Church, working zealously to weld all men together into a brotherhood that is to endure for all eternity. Israel, says the prophet, is to be the third in this earthly trio, a blessing in the midst of the land. The picture of a nation of peacemakers in the midst of the earth, playing their part in the reconciliation of men to God, is one that is very vividly shown in this verse.
So the Divine blessing comes upon a world made new. The earth has yielded its increase and justified the declaration God made so long ago "I will make the place of my feet glorious." (Isa.60:13) "Blessed be Assyria the work of my hands." Mankind will have come to perfection and entered into sonship; with sin cast away, and evil a thing of the past, they will have become sons of God on the human plane, and God says of them "Blessed be Egypt my people." Israel, the missionary nation, comes in for the closer and more intimate word. Her work finished, God says "Blessed be Israel mine inheritance." Perhaps we ought to realise that the earthly nation that has carried out this missionary work on earth is, after all, only working under the control of the Church of Christ, glorified in the heavens, and maybe much of what is credited in this chapter to Israel belongs properly to the spiritual Israel which will be ordering these things from above. At the same time it should be fairly clear that this nineteenth chapter of Isaiah is looking at things practically exclusively from an earthly point of view and describes the work of God as it will be observed and appreciated by men upon earth. If there were nothing else in all the Scriptures to tell of the hope for mankind that is to be realised in time to come, this glowing passage should be enough to convince us that God has planned for the conversion of symbolic Egypt to himself. He will bring to an end all war and strife and tumult, and all those things that have made the world, in our day, a replica on a greater scale of Egypt as it was in its relation to Judah in the days of Isaiah the prophet. And He will have reconciled "Egypt" and purged it of all its sin.