Temple Themes in Isaiah 18-20 Continuing the oracles against the nations, the next three chapters of Isaiah focus

on Egypt. To understand these chapters one must remember that Egypt had been conquered by the Nubians (Egypt south of Aswan and northern Sudan), and was thus ruled by a foreign, though Egyptianized dynasty from 760-656 BCE. Thus, in these chapters Isaiah conflates Egyptians and what the KJV calls Ethiopians; the Hebrew term for these people is Cush (kūš). In his mixed references to Egyptians and Ethiopians, Isaiah refers to the Egyptian state ruled by Nubian/ Kushite pharaohs. Broadly speaking, the Egyptian oracles are similar in theme to those against the other nations: Prophecies of disaster are interspersed with glimmers of hope. Yahweh again raises his war-banner (nes) (18:3) to gather armies against Egypt. Their idols and gods cannot save them (19:1-3) from impending devastation, civil war, natural disasters, drought and famine. In the end, the Assyrians will conquer Egypt (20:4; as they did from 674-666 BCE). The Egyptians are mocked for seeking prophecies and guidance from their gods and idols, and for divination and necromancy to forestall their doom (19:1-3). In contrast to the true oracles of Yahweh, these false oracles can only bring them “a spirit of confusion” (19:14). On the other hand, there is a hopeful prophetic vision for Egypt’s future as well. “At that time gifts will be brought to Yahweh of the Armies [from Egypt] ... to the place of the name of the Yahweh of Armies on Mount Zion” (18:7). The “place of the name of

Yahweh” (hDwh◊y

MEv MwøqVm, meqōm šem yahwāh), a technical epithet for the temple.1


meqōm is on Mount Zion (18:7), which in Isaiah is generally another epithet for the temple. 2 But the relationship between Egypt and Yahweh will become much more than merely occasional tribute sent to the temple. According to Isaiah, Yahweh will become the god of Egypt (19:18-25, ESV). 18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts. One of these will be called the City of the Sun.3 19 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they [the Egyptians] cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. 22 And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. 23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. 24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” This fascinating passage describes the establishment of Israelite temples in Egypt. An altar to Yahweh will exist in the center of Egypt, and a pillar on its border, thereby defining all the land of Egypt as sacred to Yahweh. Some see this as an allusion to the Jewish temple at Leontopolis


Ex 20:24, Dt 12:5, 12:11, 12:21, 14:23, 16:2, 16:6, 16:11, 26:2; 1 Kg 5:5, 8:20, 8:29, 8:43; 2 Chr 6:20, 6:26, Neh 1:9, Jer 7:14.

Mount Zion is the Temple Mount, not Jerusalem as a whole as can be seen in Isa 10:32 and 24:23

Probably Heliopolis; its ruins can still be seen in the northeastern suburbs of Cairo. It contained the great temple to the supreme Egyptian sun-god Ammon-Re; thus Isaiah is here saying Yahweh will be worshipped in place of the Egyptian high-god.

which was built around 170 BCE. The pillar (hDbE…xAm maṣṣebah) at the border may be an allusion to the Jewish temple built at Elephantine Island on the southern border of Egypt around 525 BCE. It is interesting in this regard that, though the Patriarchs and Moses erected pillar-shrines,4 such pillars are frequently condemned and ordered destroyed as apostate forms of worship.5 This positive allusion is the only mention of a maṣṣebah in Isaiah, although, conversely Hezekiah is said to have destroyed the maṣṣebah-pillars in Israel (2 Kgs 18:4). On the other hand, Christian theologians in the fourth to the seventh centuries saw the establishment of Byzantine Christianity as the An Israelite maṣṣebah-shrine from the eleventh century BCE in Hazor, Israel. The pillar in the center-left has been reerected by archaeologists (photo WJH). official state religion of Egypt as fulfilling this prophecy, where the Eucharist--the bloodless sacrifice--was offered on altars throughout Egypt, from the center to the border. Coptic Christians in Egypt today claim to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Furthermore, Yahweh’s altar and pillar in Egypt are not merely for worship by expatriate Israelites. The Egyptians, too, will “know the LORD in that day and worship” him in standard Israelite temple rituals of “sacrifice and offering ... and vows” (19:21). The plagues of he

4 5

Gen 28:18, 22; Ex 24:4. Lev 26:1, Dt 16:22; 2 Kgs 23:14; Hos 10:2; Mic 5:13.

Exodus, reiterated in part in Isaiah 18-19, will be reversed as Yahweh heals Egypt (19:22). Not only that, but the Assyrians and Egyptians, and shall be united with Israel in brotherhood, all three proclaimed equally as the beloved people of God (19:23-25). Peace and righteousness will come only when all mankind is united in worship at the temple of Yahweh, the God of all.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful