The oracles continue with today’s reading; Damascus, Cush, Egypt, and Egypt and Cush combined. The time period covered ranges from 834-701 B.C. Damascus was the capital of Aram (Syria) and it was situated northeast of Mount Hermon at the junction of strategic trade routes that joined Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Arabia. From the days of the Davidic kingdom, Israel and Aram had been engaged in conflict. Damascus was then and still is the capital of Syria. And even today there is tension between Israel and Syria. The city has been continuously occupied since antiquity so any excavation of ancient remains there is nearly impossible. Damascus was the dominant city of Aram from the eleventh century until it was annexed to Assyria in 732 B.C. The city continued on as an influential city under Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Even in New Testament times it was a major cosmopolitan center, and home to a large Jewish community. Saul was traveling there searching for early Christians when he encountered the crucified and risen Lord in a blaze of light. On the day when Damascus fell the nation of Syria would be harvested of her people and there would be precious few left. There would be only a remnant but it would be pitifully small. The word Rephaim is the Hebrew word for shades or ghosts. These are the people who are dwelling in Sheol, the place of the dead. So, the Valley of Rephaim would be the same as the valley of death.
But, like other of Isaiah’s prophecies, there is a measure of hope. In verse 7 the people may refer to the Israelites or they could be people in general. Regardless of who they are, they will repent and turn to the Lord. The idols they made with their own hands will no longer interest them, and they will worship the Lord alone. Not even the altars they built with their own hands will have any pull for them anymore. By verse 10 Isaiah was talking to the Israelites of the northern kingdom. They had mixed in their faith in the Lord with elements of worshiping pagan gods, Baal in particular. They had turned from the One True God and forgotten who had delivered them from slavery. God’s people would plant the finest plants, seeds, and vines only to have miserable harvests of poor quality and little yield. Nations would come and plunder Israel and the warning about seas and mighty waters speak of the chaos and death that awaited the people. Chaff lacks value, life, and stability and is carried away by the wind. And when God judges, the nations that plundered God’s people will become like mere tumbleweeds being tossed here and there by the wind of God’s judgement.
Cush was at the southern end of Isaiah’s world. It was also called Nubia or Ethiopia, but not the Ethiopia we know today. Cush was south of Egypt and in 740 a Cushite ruler took over the rulership of Egypt. This ruler, Piankhy, infused new energy into Egyptian affairs, most likely in an attempt to cement alliances with the surrounding countries in order to counter the Assyrian threat. The whirring wings referred to here may well have been a reference to locusts. And the smooth skinned and tall people was probably a reference to both the Egyptians and Cushites who not only shaved their faces but often all of their hair. We see a picture of the Lord here watching and working from rest in His dwelling place. God is steady in His work and His judgement will be felt like clear heat or shimmering heat. This is followed by yet another warning about poor harvests. At that time gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the dwelling place of the Lord. Often people who had been defeated were forced to pay tribute to a dominant king in the area. So the Ethiopians would come bringing gifts honoring the Lord for His defeat of the Assyrians. You can read the story in 2 Chronicles 32:23.
Egypt was up next on Isaiah’s list of oracles. There are three parts to this oracle. First we see the collapse of Egypt before the Lord. Next we see the salvation of Egypt in the Lord and finally Isaiah shares a specific historic fulfillment of the collapse of Egypt at the time of Sargon. Egypt was vulnerable,
depending on the Nile River for food, fish, and industry. When the Lord struck the Nile, Egypt would be in dire straits, and their gods would not be able to help. That God would come riding on a swift cloud shows His sovereignty and power over creation. He is coming in judgement against Judah’s enemies. The idols of Egypt tremble and quake because they are weak and impotent…unable to help. There will be a cruel master, some say this would be Assyria’s king and others believe this is an illusion to Pharaoh’s tyranny against Israel. There were two Assyrian kings who attacked Egypt. First was Esarhaddon and the second was Ashurbanipal, in 671 and 663 B.C. respectively. They attacked and destroyed both Memphis and Thebes. The bulk of this Oracle describes in detail the damage and destruction caused by the attack on the Nile River. Nothing could stand against God’s judgement. None of Egypt’s wise men or leaders…from the greatest to the least ( head to tail) would be of any use for the people. When this day came five of Egypt’s cities would speak the language of Israel. This could be a reference to the Jews who lived in Egypt or it could also mean that some of the Egyptians had a chance of heart and decided to follow and worship the Lord. The city of destruction here most likely refers to Heliopolis, the city of Ra, the Egyptian sun god. At a time when Judah was resisting the Lord, Isaiah envisioned the Egyptians following the Lord. The fact that there is a reference to altars being built most likely means there were a significant number of Egyptian converts to the Lord. The Hebrew verb here for striking Egypt is the same verb used for the tenth plague just before the exodus, the death of the firstborn was struck. Traditionally Egypt and Assyria were enemies of one another and of Israel. They were idolatrous to the core but they would leave behind their enmity and their idols to worship the true God. In the rugged terrain of the ancient Near East, a highway provided a means for safe, easy travel and trade. A highway signifies the removal of alienation and separation.
Isaiah returns to Cush and Egypt for one brief Oracle. In chapter 20 the year referenced here was most likely 712 B.C. Ashdod was a major Philistine city, right along the Mediterranean Sea. In this chapter we see the first instance of one of God’s prophets becoming an object lesson for God’s people. The Lord came to Isaiah and instructed him to remove his sackcloth, a sign of mourning and grief, and his sandals. Isaiah did as the Lord commanded. This could have meant he was completely naked, or he may have worn a loincloth. Either way, being naked and barefoot was a sign of being exiled into captivity. For three years Isaiah prophesied and lived, until the city of Ashdod and the Philistines were defeated. This was a warning to the people of Judah who also relied on Egypt and other alliances rather than the Lord. Keep reading because Isaiah is not yet done with his oracles.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W