It was a blessing a few years ago when I attended a large gathering in Israel comprised of Messianic Jewish believers and Christian Arabs united in fellowship through Messiah Yeshua. I was encouraged to attend a congregation where this was the new normal. It left a profound affect on me and it was the highlight of my trip. It was also a small foreshadowing of the greater purpose for Egypt, Assyria, and Israel in the future Messianic kingdom.
In the two verses that precede this passage Egypt will initially be afraid of the Lord of hosts and of Judah. Egypt will have a time of chastisement by the Lord though this will be followed by tremendous blessings. Formerly Judah had sought Egypt for assistance though in the latter times in a reversal of situations, Egypt will recognise Judah as a dominant force in the world.[i]
The phrase ‘in that day’ is designated five times in verses 18-25 and also in verse 16. It is speaking of the millennial reign of Jesus the Messiah.
Blessings for Egypt
There will be five cities in Egypt that speak the land of Canaan. It is astonishing that Hebrew has been preserved as a language following the diaspora and relentless persecution though Zephaniah 3:9 reminds us that the Lord will restore to the peoples a pure language that they may call on the name of the Lord. This also ties in with the command for all nations to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the Messianic kingdom and significantly Egypt is specifically mentioned (Zechariah 14:16-21).
Egypt will swear by the Lord of hosts (meaning the Lord of armies) which demonstrates they will trust in Him as their strength. One of those cities will be called the ‘city of Destruction’, or ‘city of the sun’. This phrase has troubled interpreters though generally speaking, ‘city of the sun’ is accepted and was also used in the Dead Sea Scrolls as such and means ‘Heliopolis’[i]. Essentially, rather than worshipping the sun, the Egyptians will serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
There will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of Egypt and a pillar to the Lord at its border. That will be as a sign and as witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt who will send a Saviour and Mighty One to deliver them. Claims have been made regarding this fulfilment though they only refer to a part of a wider number of related prophecies. Rashi noted that some sages attributed this to Onias the son of Simon the Just who fled to Egypt and built an altar and cited Tractate Menachot (109b) in support.[ii]
In Jewish Antiquities 13:3.1-3, Josephus explained how Onias the High Priest saw that Judea was oppressed by the Macedonians and asked leave of King Ptolemy and Queen Cleopatra noting that the prophet Isaiah prophesied of an altar in Egypt to the Lord God.[iii] They granted his request and a temple was erected to replace the one fallen down at Leontopolis, in the Nomus of Heliopolis.[iv]
However Isaiah 19:22 explains that the Lord would strike and heal Egypt and that they would return to the Lord. We would still be left with the problem of five cities speaking the language of Canaan and the Egyptians worshipping the Lord of hosts. As one commentator observed concerning this passage, biblical prophecy continues beyond post exilic Jewish communities such as Elephantine.[i] As we continue and look at the blessings of Assyria and Israel which are interconnected in God’s plan of peace for the Middle East it becomes increasingly evident that the events in Isaiah 19:18-25 are all still future.
Blessings for Assyria
In biblical times, Assyria and Egypt had been great superpowers and military rivals. Isaiah 19:23 informs us that there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria and that the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians.
At the risk of stating the obvious there is currently no highway linking the two locations so this must be yet still future. Isaiah gives more detail concerning event this in Isaiah 11:15-16.
“The Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; with His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, and strike it in the seven streams, and make men cross over dry-shod. There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt.”
In other words this is in some ways reminiscent of the Red Sea crossing though its purpose will be to create unity between the Egyptians and the Assyrians, who will serve the Lord together. A miraculous event of this nature will demonstrate the outworking of God’s purposes. Only He can bring meaningful unity and real and lasting peace in the Middle East. Politicians and organisations can attempt to make peace though here we see God’s blueprint for the nations in the last days.
Isaiah again spoke of similar events in Isaiah 27:12-13 which links in with worship and keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in Zechariah 14:16-21. Moreover it mentions the children of Israel being regathered from Assyria and Egypt. Notice the expression ‘in that day’ used twice in those two verses.
“And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord will thresh from the channel of the River to the brook of Egypt; and you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel. So it shall be in that day; the great trumpet will be blown; they will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, and they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:12-13).”
Blessings for Israel
Isaiah 19:24-25 is yet still more astonishing since Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria. Consider their history, alliances made and broken between them and with other nations involving power struggles. They will be a blessing in the midst of the land. Even a casual observer of either ancient or modern history, or current affairs today would be astounded to witness this. Consider how turbulent Israel’s existence has been as a nation reborn since 1948. Nonetheless this is the Lord’s plan and it will be miraculous in terms of geographical miracles and in nations being reconciled and no longer at enmity but in unity serving together for and through Messiah.
The Lord has appointed His titles for each of these nations. Egypt, he refers to as “My people”. If we cast our minds back prior to the Exodus, Pharaoh was instructed to “Let My People go”. Here though, Egypt will also be considered ‘His people’ since God has decreed it.
Assyria will be known as “the work of My hands”. Formerly Isaiah spoke on behalf of God to Assyria this way. “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation (Isaiah 10:5).” The Lord had permitted Assyria to act as a chastening agent to bring Israel to repentance before pronouncing judgement on Assyria. Now however the relationship is so markedly different since Assyria is called “the work of His hands.”
Israel will be known as “My inheritance”. This will demonstrate emphatically that God has kept His chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:7-9; 14:2) and has honoured His covenants with them. The millennial kingdom will be centred in and around Jerusalem and other nations will gather to worship Him. The Lord has always had a purpose for Israel and the nations. The Messiah will reign in Jerusalem for one thousand years and that is how Messiah will bring peace.
To have genuine peace with others we need to have peace with God. Only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can give us ‘shalom’, that real and lasting peace. Yeshua Himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). His blood that was shed through His sacrifice has brought atonement for sin. He was set forth as a propitiation by satisfying the wrath of God and paying the penalty of our sin which separated us from Him. Jesus the Messiah also expiates sin and removes it far from us so we must repent, confess our sins to Him and ask Him for forgiveness. He is the Saviour who is the Mighty One. If you turn to Him and trust in Him, you will live, and have life eternal with Him.
[i] Merill Unger Unger’s Bible Commentary (AMG, Chattanooga; 2002), p1192
[i] Ibid, p1067
[ii] Rashi’s Commentary https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15950/showrashi/true
[iii] The New Complete Works of Josephus Translated by William Whiston and Commentary by Paul Maier (Kregel Publications; Grand Rapids, 1999), p421
[iv] Ibid, p422
[i] John F. Walvord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor, USA; 1999), p1066