I am indebted to Professor Travis Bott of Nashotah House, who focused, for me, two ideas in Isaiah 19-21:
- The Lord strikes and heals (Isa. 19:22).
- Fallen, fallen is Babylon (Isa. 21:9).
The Lord Strikes and Heals
Isaiah 19 is a prophetic oracle concerning Egypt, and verse 22 is a key verse: “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.”
Verses 1-15 concern the striking of Egypt and verses 16-25 concern its healing. At the beginning of the chapter, God is about to descend in wrath upon Egypt. We then see the horrors of civil war, overwhelming social distress, and tyranny. During the time of Isaiah’s ministry, there were severe internal disorders in Egypt, which culminated in the establishment of an alien Ethiopian dynasty about 711 b.c.
What happens in Egypt is socially disintegrating civil strife, failure of courage, a turning to impotent forms of religion, and the triumph of a dictator. There is also the failure of the Nile upon which Egypt depended.
Isaiah proclaims this internal conflict, oppression from foreign powers, ecological disasters, and the lack of political wisdom as God striking Egypt.
This striking of God has a purpose—that Egypt might cry out to him for help. The chapter ends with a remarkable statement of healing in verses 24 and 25. Egypt and Assyria, the western and eastern poles of the ancient world, will join with Israel in worshipping God, and God even calls Egypt “my people.” The purpose of the striking of God is to heal his people and the nations of the world.
We might well reflect on our own national circumstances, the internal conflict in our political system, which is around power and money. Greed is no respecter of persons or parties. Our leaders (we included) often look like the foolish princes of Egypt who could not address the pressing issues of the day. We, like the Egyptians who depended on the Nile, are dependent on resources we cannot create or command.
Perhaps we might consider a modern translation of the first Beatitude: “Blessed are those who know their need for God, for they will find him.”
Fallen, Fallen is Babylon (Isa. 21)
The key verse is verse 9: “’Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground.’”
Isaiah 21:1-10is an oracle against Babylon. Isaiah is like a watchman in a tower. He sees the messengers arrive with the message that Babylon, the great oppressor of Judah, has been destroyed. Isaiah prophesied in the mid-eighth century b.c. In fact, Babylon did fall to the Medes, but not until 539 b.c. Therefore, there was a considerable lag time before the prediction was fulfilled.
The book of Revelation quotes Isaiah 21:9 when it predicts the future downfall of Babylon, which now represents all the worldly forces that oppose God (Rev. 14:8, 18:2). In Chapter 21 of Revelation, we hear the words in verse 6: “’It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’”
Like Isaiah, we have received this message in advance, and by the power of the Cross and Resurrection, we live in the tension of knowing and waiting in the hope of God’s final victory over evil. Through grace, the Holy Spirit is with us as companion and guide.