Everyone Has a Religion
All people seek God in some form, even for people who say they have no religion, there is something they believe in, some ideology, or cause that they believe in or support.
For example, football can become that cause that unifies, that brings people together over a common aim, we hope our team will win! Tailgate parties and Sunday t.v. gatherings become life priorities for time and resources, and mark the seasons.
The political arena arouses high passion for an ideology that translates into sacrificial gifts, the dedication of one’s life to a cause or project, all hopes for the future riding on a certain hero, or the enactment of certain law.
Some worship at the altar of romance, where conjugal love becomes the apex of human experience, and iconic rites of passage such as the wedding, buying a home together, raising a family become the key festivals of life itself.
So, everyone has something they believe in, and it was no different in antiquity. It was, in fact, the norm for the Ancient Near East to have multiple gods. Egypt had gods for every sphere of life, every activity, every season, every element of earth. There were over eighty deities in all, so that every possible contingency was covered.
The Gods of Egypt Versus Almighty God
Egypt’s gods focused on three main sources of life for them:
- The Nile.
- The fertile earth.
- The sky, including the sun.
As God navigated Pharaoh through his options of either humbling himself before the Lord or enduring a battle of wills with God through a plague, it becomes clear God prepared three arenas of contest with the gods of Egypt to address each of these regions: the Nile, the fertile earth, and the sky.
Each contest included a cycle of three plagues, and a pattern emerged that displayed a progressive revelation of God.
|Cycle||The Nile||The Earth||The Sky|
|Plague 1 Early Morning Warning||Exodus 7:15||Exodus 8:20||Exodus 9:13|
|Plague 2 In the Palace Warning||Exodus 8:1||Exodus 9:1||Exodus 10:1|
|Plague 3 No Warning|
|Exodus 9:8||Exodus 10:21|
|The Lord set forth God’s purpose|
|Exodus 8:10||Exodus 9:14|
|Increase in pressure||No lasting damage||Crops ruined, livestock killed, people affected||Destruction, Death|
|Increase in revelation||“Finger of God”|
“Hand of God” and the redemption of God’s people
|God’s Word, Power, and Judgment|
|Model of maturing faith||Aaron lifted his staff||God initiated, then Moses lifted his voice||Moses lifted his staff|
The final plague was not properly part of this cycle, for it acted as judgment that came directly against Pharaoh and his dynasty, as well as warning to every person in Egypt, both those who had so far pledged faith in God (i.e. the Hebrew people) and those who had not (i.e. all others living in Egypt). All people of the earth were to understand:
God alone is Sovereign, Who created all, and is over all.
And all had transgressed against God’s way. All rightfully came under God’s judgment. And all who would care to, could come out from under that judgment by placing themselves under God’s mercy, represented by the shed blood of an innocent lamb.
An Oracle Against Egypt
Now, the prophet Isaiah announced, there would be another cataclysmic contest between God and the gods of Egypt. Just as in the days of Exodus, God’s judgment of Egypt would be complete:
Social disaster – depicted through infighting, polarized political factions, civil strife.
Spiritual disaster – for their religious institutions would prove empty of wisdom or power.
Political disaster – when a despot would rise to power.
Water crisis – in that Egypt’s water, such a precious commodity, would once again become scarce.
Agricultural disaster – for with the Nile dried up, the land would quickly lose its richness and ability to produce.
Industrial disaster – as fishing would collapse, textiles and exports would collapse, and the economy, so dependent on these businesses, would itself collapse.
Economic disaster – when severe unemployment would increase and imports would be at an all-time high.
“Brain drain” – as all the experts, advisors, and academics would come up empty of ideas or solutions.
These would all simply seem to happen as a combination of poor foresight, bad decisions, and unfortunate natural disasters all occurring in concert with each other. But in actual fact it would be the Lord
The Lord has poured into themIsaiah 19:14-15 (NRSV)
a spirit of confusion;
and they have made Egypt stagger in all its doings
as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit.
Neither head nor tail, palm branch or reed,
will be able to do anything for Egypt.
There would be nothing Egypt could do about it.
The Proud Brought Low
For centuries Egypt was the world power, so long established that no one could have even imagined a world that was not influenced by Egypt.
Yet it did happen.
The prophet’s oracle found its near-term fulfillment most likely in 670 BCE, when Egypt was conquered by Assyria, as is described in the next chapter.
In the year that the commander-in-chief, who was sent by King Sargon of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and took it—at that time the Lord had spoken to Isaiah son of Amoz, saying, “Go and loose the sackcloth from your loins and take your sandals off your feet,” and he had done so, walking naked and barefoot.
Then the Lord said,
“Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as captives and the Cushites as exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. And they shall be dismayed and confounded because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast.
“On that day the inhabitants of this coastland will say, ‘See, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria!
‘And we, how shall we escape?’”Isaiah 20 (NRSV)
An Oracle of Hope For Egypt
But one day, so Isaiah wrote, the tables would be turned, for Egypt would come to fear Judah and even more so fear the God of Judah Who would bring about a change so stupendous, so astounding, that if God had not said so, it would be too hard to believe.
Devotion It would begin with five cities in Egypt swearing allegiance to the one true and living God.
Devoutness Worship of God would spread throughout Egypt, to its very borders.
Deliverance God would send them a savior and defender, and deliver them.
And in the Lord’s greatest act, they would become God’s people.
The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day and will serve with sacrifice and offerings, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them.Isaiah 19:21 (NRSV)
Dedication Now saved, they would undergo the process of sanctification.
This incredible finale – seemingly in a time still future to us – the spiritual transformation Isaiah described will bring about a phenomenal political change. Assyria (Iraq), Egypt, and Judah will cooperate and enjoy the blessings of the Lord together. Here God will bring to complete fulfillment the promise the Lord had made to Abraham back in Genesis, that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed
On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians.
On that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands and Israel my heritage.”Isaiah 19:23-25 (NRSV)
God’s grace is greater
Alliances, military strength, economic power, education, social engineering, none of these things are guarantees, nor are they more powerful than the Lord. The best thing any nation can do is to turn as a people to God, to be devoted to God, dedicated to God, and look to the Lord for deliverance. If there were anything worth praying for at a national level, it would be for this.
And even at the individual level, the lesson of Egypt, Cush, and Assyria is “Never say never.”
God is so much powerful than that!