(1) The burden of Egypt.—In its political bearings, as Egypt and Ethiopia were at this time under the same ruler, Tirhakah, as they had been before under Piankhi-Mer-Amon, this prophecy presents nearly the same features as the preceding. Its chief characteristic is that it presents the condition of the conquered nation as distinct from that of the conqueror. The opening words declare that the long-delayed judgment is at last coming, swift as a cloud driven by the storm-wind, upon the idols of Egypt. Men shall feel that the presence of the Mighty One is among them.
The brooks of defence.—The latter noun (Heb., matzor) is better treated as a proper name, the singular of the dual form Mitsraim, commonly used for Egypt. Here it would seem to be used for Lower Egypt, the region of Zoan and Memphis, as distinct from Upper Egypt or the Thebaid. The same form occurs in Isaiah 37:25; 2 Kings 19:24; Micah 7:12. Its primary meaning is that of a fortified land. The “flags” are strictly the papyrus of the Nile; the “brooks” are the canals or Nile-branches of the Delta.
They that weave networks.—Better, white cloths, the cotton or byssus fabrics for which Egypt was famous.
How say ye unto Pharaoh . . .?—The princes of Zoan, probably priest-princes and priest-magicians (Exodus 7:11), boasting at once of their wisdom and their ancestry, are represented as speaking to the Pharaoh of the time (probably, as in Isaiah 18, of Ethiopian origin) in something like a tone of superiority. They claim to be the only counsellors; and the prophet challenges their claim. Can they disclose, as he can, the future that impends over their country?
Even they that are the stay of the tribes thereof.—Better, the corner-stone of the castes. The word is the same as the “corner” of Zechariah 10:4, the “chief” of Judges 20:2; 1 Samuel 14:38, and describes the position of superiority among the Egyptian castes claimed by the priest-rulers of Zoan and Noph.
And swear to the Lord of hosts.—The oath, as in the parallel phrase of Isaiah 45:23, is one of allegiance, and implies, therefore, something like a covenant of obedience.
The city of destruction.—There is probably something like a play on the name of the Egyptian city On, the Greek Heliopolis, the City of the Sun (Heb., Ir-ha-kheres), and the word which the prophet actually uses (Ir-ha-cheres), the “city of destruction.” The paronomasia, like in character to Ezekiel’s transformation of On into Aven, “nothingness,” or “vanity” (Ezekiel 30:17), or Hosea’s of Beth-el (“house of God”) into Bethaven (“ house of nothingness”) (Hosea 4:15), was intended to indicate the future demolition of the sun-idols, and is so interpreted in the Targum on this passage, “Bethshemesh (i.e., Heliopolis), whose future fate shall be destruction.” The word for destruction is cognate with the verb used of Gideon’s breaking down the image of Baal, in Judges 6:25; and in Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 43:13), “He shall break the pillars in the house of the sun,” we may probably trace an allusive reference to Isaiah’s language. Other meanings, such as “city of rescue,” “city of protection,” “city of restoration,” have been suggested, but on inadequate grounds. The Vulg. gives civitas solis. The LXX. rendering, “city asedek,” apparently following a different reading of the Hebrew, and giving the meaning, “city of righteousness,” was probably connected historically with the erection of a Jewish temple at Leon-topolis by Onias IV., in the time of Ptolemy Philomêtor, which for some two centuries shared with the Temple at Jerusalem the homage of Egyptian Jews. Onias and his followers pointed to Isaiah’s words as giving a sanction to what their brethren in Palestine looked on as a rival and sacrilegious worship.
A pillar at the border thereof . . .—The pillar was the familiar obelisk of the Egyptians, commonly associated with the worship of the sun. The point of Isaiah’s prediction was that the symbol should be rescued from its idolatrous uses, and stand on the border-land of Egypt and of Judah, as a witness that Jehovah, the Lord of hosts, was worshipped in both countries.
Sacrifice and oblation.—The two words describe respectively the slain victims and the meat, or rather, meal, offerings of the Law. Did the prophet, we ask, think of such sacrifices as literally offered in Egypt, or did he look beyond the symbol to the thing symbolised? The builders of the temple at Leontopolis took the former view. Those who have entered into the mind and spirit of Isaiah will be inclined, perhaps, to take the latter. A literal fulfilment has been found in the fact that Ptolemy Euergetes (B.C. 244) came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple.