posted on Apr, 21 2017 @ 05:01 PM
The power of Egypt is the subject of many of the Old Testament prophecies.
The key to understanding them is to realise that Biblical prophets, in the first instance, are always writing for, and addressing the concerns of, the
people of their own time.
Egypt comes into prophecy as an entity of the past, the present, and the future.
Defined, of course, from the viewpoint of the prophet himself and his immediate audience.
In the past, Egypt is the nation which once held the ancestors of Israel in the condition of slavery from which God rescued them.
“Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea ch11 v1).
So God can claim this event as the source of his authority over them;
“I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt;
You know no God but me, and besides me there is no saviour” (Hosea ch12 v9).
This means, for prophecy, that God can threaten to send them back there if they don’t behave themselves;
“They shall return to the land of Egypt… because they have refused to return to me” (Hosea ch11 v5).
And the Exodus becomes the standard against which later acts of salvation may be measured;
“The days are coming, says the Lord, when it will no longer be said ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel from the land of
Egypt’, but ‘As the Lord lives who…” (Jeremiah ch16 v14).
In “the present day” of the prophet’s first readers, Egypt and Assyria are paired as the two dominant powers of the world.
Israel is warned against looking for allies in those countries;
“Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria” (Hosea, ch7 v11.
“They make a bargain with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt” (Hosea ch12 v1).
But this is like “herding the east wind”, and they would be better off looking to their God.
Either is a danger as a possible enemy, and so God can threaten to bring them both down against his people;
“Proclaim to the strongholds in Assyria, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say ‘Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria
and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressions in her midst…’
An adversary shall surround the land, and bring down your defences from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered” (Amos ch3 vv9-11).
Isaiah has the same warning for Judah;
“In that day, the Lord will whistle for the fly which is at the sources of the streams of the Nile, and for the bee which is in the land of
And they will all come and settle in the deep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thorn bushes, and on all the pastures” (Isaiah
Egypt is really the less powerful of the two.
So Isaiah warns Judah against seeking alliance with Egypt, because they won’t be able to offer substantial help against Assyria;
“Woe to the rebellious children… who set out to go down to Egypt without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh”
(Isaiah ch30 vv1-2)
“For Egypt’s help is worthless and empty, therefore I have called her ‘Rahab who sits still’” (ch30 v7).
“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses… but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord…
The Egyptians are men and not God; and their horses are flesh, not spirit…
When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together” (ch31 vv1-3).
The message is reinforced by an oracle predicting the downfall of Egyptian power;
Isaiah refers to the state of civil war which was afflicting Egypt at the time, under the 23rd and 24th dynasties.
“I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, every man against his brother” (ch19 v2).
On the one hand, “the princes of Zoan”; on the other hand, “the princes of Memphis”.
“I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master; and a fierce king will rule over them” (v4).
This oracle was fulfilled by the conquest of Egypt by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon.
Therefore Nahum could cite the downfall of Egypt as a warning to the Assyrians themselves;
“Are you better than Thebes, that sat by the Nile?...
Yet she was carried away, she went into captivity” (Nahum ch3 vv8-10).
Assyria’s turn to be overthrown came later in the seventh century, at the hands of the Babylonians and their allies.
Pharaoh Necho, leading the army of a revived Egypt, tried to rescue what was left of Assyria.
He failed, but he had time on the way to defeat Josiah, king of Judah, at the battle of Megiddo.
Jeremiah refers to these events;
“The men of Memphis and Tahpenes have broken the crown of your head” (Jeremiah ch2 v16).
Jeremiah ch46 is a description of Necho’s defeat at Carchemish at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar;
The prophet exults in the crushing of the men who killed Josiah;
“The Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates” (ch46 v10).
He adds “The daughter of Egypt shall be put to shame, she shall be delivered into the hand of a people from the north” (v24).
Among the consequences of Megiddo, the shattering of their army was less dangerous for Judah than its encouragement of the belief that Egypt remained
a great power.
It led the sons of Josiah to nurse hopes of getting Egyptian support against Babylon.
This was an illusion, and Jeremiah asks “What do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile?” (ch2 v18).
The “Egyptian” policy is also criticised by Ezekiel;
“But [Zedekiah the king] rebelled against [the king of Babylon] by sending ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army…
Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war” (Ezekiel ch17 vv15-17).
When the siege of Jerusalem is under way, in the tenth year of the previous king’s exile, Ezekiel gives an oracle against the pride of Egypt
“Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,
The great dragon that lies in the middle of his streams” (Ezekiel ch29 v30).
The Lord God would make his land a desolation and a waste. It would be abandoned forty years while the Egyptians themselves were in exile.
The oracles continued, over the next few years of crisis (chs30-32). The king of Babylon would come in smash the armies of Pharaoh and destroy the
land. Egypt would be sent down to Sheol, to join there the gloomy company of dead states headed by Assyria.
Jeremiah records the immediate aftermath of the Fall of Jerusalem (chs39-44). The Babylonians appointed a Jewish governor over the remaining
inhabitants. Exiles began to return, and it would still have been possible to rebuild Jewish society under Babylonian rule.
However, a faction amongst the Jews killed the governor and determined to seek exile in Egypt. Jeremiah was appalled. These were the same people who
had always rebelled against God’s will, and they were just continuing to be stubborn. Some of them did ask him for the word of the Lord on the
matter, and then ignored it.
Jeremiah predicted that Egypt would not provide refuge. The sword, famine and pestilence would follow them there. Again, this would be at the hands of
the king of Babylon.
These oracles may be taken as an expression of God’s hostility towards the power of Egypt, and a declaration of intent; “If Nebuchadnezzar chooses
to invade Egypt, I will allow him to conquer”.
But the Babylonians did not take up the implied opportunity, and that job was left for the Persians a few years later.