The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”Isaiah 19:25
Hi Rick, I’m reading the book of Isaiah…in chapter 19:24-25 it sounds like part of this prophecy already occurred but verse 25 in particular – that has never happened? Is what was called Assyria…isn’t that now where Iran/Iraq are?
Great question. Yes, Assyria then basically covered what is today eastern Syria and Northern Iraq.
Finding the historical location of fulfillment for these prophesies is more difficult than the geographical location, however. There’s been some general consensus that the judgment part of the prophecy of chapter 19 has some historical fulfillment. Looking into Isaiah’s context, Egypt at this point (750 BC) was a shell of its glorious former self under the Pharaohs. It was mostly ruled by Ethiopians, which explains the connection to chapter 18’s prophesy.
After Isaiah’s time we could say that his vision (19:4) to see them “delivered into the hands of harsh masters, and a strong king to rule” was fulfilled many times over: in many kings in the succeeding centuries.
- Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal (Assyrians),
- Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonian),
- Cambyses and Alexander the Great (Greek)
- all these ruled Egypt as fierce tyrants.
So Egypt’s judgment as described here has definitely been fulfilled.
More context: the temptation in Isaiah’s day was to see Egypt as a potential ally against Assyria. So God is saying here DO NOT TRUST Egypt – she will be unreliable, God is going to crush her. And do not be worried about her either, she will fall and fail you – and eventually adopt OUR ways, not the other way around. Unfortunately, Israel would struggle all the way through to king Josiah and his sons with trusting Egypt when they shouldn’t.
So the judgement piece really came true, but what about the salvation piece of this prophesy, from 19:16-25? Were there ever five cities in Egypt that “swore allegiance to Israel’s God”? Was there ever a “Jewish altar in Egypt” for worship, did God miraculously “send a Savior” to deliver the Egyptians, and was there ever a “highway connecting Jerusalem, Egypt, and Assyria”?
Some suggest that the prophecy was fulfilled after the exile when a group of Hebrews fled to Egypt, settled in four Egyptian cities (Jer 44:1) and later built a temple in Leontopolis around 170 BC. The problem with locating the salvation parts in that part of history is that all the Jewish settlements in Egypt were mostly by Jewish apostates who rejected the Lord or worshiped Him along with pagan deities. Also, there was no highway connecting Egypt with Assyria during this period, unless we mean a highway of destruction!
The prophesy is clearly envisioning a future where Egypt not merely has some outposts of true religion, but rather pervasively KNOWS the Lord in a real way, speaks the same language as God’s people, are faithful to Him and a good ally and fellow worshipers of the One True God (vs 22). This is more than we could say ever happened before Christ.
So another approach sees these words fulfilled after the spread of Christianity to Egypt. And that makes better sense that Isaiah sees a “savior to rescue them” (vs 20). This sounds like Messiah, and in the late Roman period and into the Byzantine era, most of Egypt was heavily Christianized. But honestly, I don’t anything that has happened in Egypt in the Christian era comes close to matching the lofty and quite shocking beauty of this vision of the fertile crescent: all One, all adopted as God’s people, totally at peace and unified under Israel’s God from the Nile to the Euphrates (Iraq)? Hasn’t happened yet.
So I would settle on a third view: the salvation part of the prophecy awaits fulfillment during the future period of peace brought in by Christ in the 2nd coming. Read Isaiah 2:1-4… this is the grand picture of the future peace which the prophet sees coming to ALL the earth. And Isaiah begins that vision with same words as the prophecies in 19: “in that day”. I think then chp. 19 is supposed to fit into this grander vision as a specific sort of microcosm of the whole picture. Inside the future where “ALL the nations will come to the mountain of the Lord” and “walk in the paths of the God of Jacob” (2:3), will be this specific peace between Egypt, Israel and Assyria (19:23.24).
To even imagine it in Isaiah’s day was scandalous. It would be very similar if I said that one day, Jesus Christ will be acknowledged everywhere, but then went on to say, “even in the Levant and Syria Jesus will be claimed as Lord and worshiped as God in the heart of Mecca!” Christians believe that will happen when Christ comes again – but to non-Christian ears it’s shocking to even imagine it! It feels weird to print it! That’s how this prophesy likely hit Isaiah’s countrymen’s ears. A highway of peace between our dreaded enemies to the north to our enemies/unreliable allies to the south? Co-adoption as God’s people with Assyrians and Egyptians? Unthinkable! But that’s what’s coming, says Isaiah.
Yet not through some great negotiator or leader – only through the “Lord Himself” making himself known to the Egyptians (21) so that again implies 2nd coming.
That’s why I would say this is for the future, because of its size and scope.