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Isaiah 19:5-10

Withered Hope

5 And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up. 6 And they shall turn the rivers far away; [and] the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither. 7 The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks, and every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no [more]. 8 The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish. 9 Moreover they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks, shall be confounded. 10 And they shall be broken in the purposes thereof, all that make sluices [and] ponds for fish.


The first section of this prophecy described the political turmoil that Egypt would experience when Yahweh would come to execute judgment. This second section addresses a natural disaster and a great spiritual disappointment, which the nation was going to suffer. Natural disasters bring economic problems and, when combined with spiritual disappointment, bring a feeling of complete hopelessness.

The natural disaster being described is the drying up of the Nile. It was customarily referred to as the sea, because of its enormous width and power. The Nile was the lifeblood of the nation of Egypt. When it swelled its banks, it fertilized the farmland and provided an abundance of crops. The cycles of the river were in a delicate balance with the needs of the land. "The great peculiarity of the river is its annual overflow, caused by the periodical tropical rains. 'With wonderful clock-like regularity, the river begins to swell, about the end of June, rises 24 feet at Cairo, between the 20th and 30th of September, and falls as much, by the middle of May. Six feet higher than this is devastation; six feet lower is destitution.' -- Bartlett." (Smith's Bible Dictionary)

If the river rose to only six feet below its normal levels, famine would strike the nation. Imagine the effect it would have, if it were nearly dry! The smaller rivers and streams that feed into the Nile were prophesied to dry up. These not only fed the larger body of water, but formed a network of defenses across the southern end of the country. An invading army would have difficulty attacking swiftly and unexpectedly when it had to cross those rivers but, if the rivers were dry, there would be nothing to slow them down.

The reeds and flags would wither along with all of the other crops. The reeds were used to make papyrus from which were made a great variety of products important to the economy. "And, besides paper, of this rush or reed were made sails, ropes, and other naval rigging, as also mats, blankets, clothes, and even ships were made of the stalk of the papyrus; and the Egyptian priests wore shoes made of it " (John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible)

Any culture that is dependent on a river for its subsistence is going to have a vibrant fishing industry. The Egyptian diet was very dependent on the Nile and the fisherman who worked her. This was another industry, which would of course suffer in such a crisis.

Verse 9 speaks of the fine flax. Flax was an important product in Egypt, and the people were very skilled at making expensive, fine linen cloth from it. They also made "networks" or fine fishing nets from the flax, but these craftsmen would also be "confounded" or ashamed for their lack of production.

The nation would literally be broken in its purposes, in the foundations of its socio-economic structure. There are a great variety of translations for the final verse. I prefer, "...all that make wages (the common laborers) shall gather (be grieved in) their souls." It will be a time of serious grief and self-examination.

The Nile was so important to Egypt that it was one of their most important gods, named Hapi, and was often on an equal footing with Ra, the sun god. This great god was going to abandon its people, proving the vanity of everything for which Egypt and her people had lived. Their lives had been built on a fantasy that had dried up at the approach of the one true God, Yahweh.

We should all think about the things in which we have placed our trust. Ask yourself what you would do, if you suddenly lost your job and there was no one to help you. What will happen to you when the Social Security system goes broke or the stock market crashes? How would you eat, if all of the supermarkets and restaurants closed? What would you do, if the US dollar suddenly became worthless? (It is already worthless, but we trust in it as though it were some kind of god)

All these things are under the control of our Lord Jesus Christ. When He comes in the clouds, everyone who has been dependent on worldly possessions will be like the people of Egypt. The very foundations of their lives and purposes will crumble and they will have nowhere to turn. Hopelessness is the absolute worst feeling that anyone can experience, but we have our hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Make Him your source of life, your purpose in life, your provider and your shelter.

Before The Throne:

Do some self-examination and determine how dependent you are on worldly comforts. If you were to lose your home, would it matter? What about your job? Are you so totally focused on Jesus that major disasters would not radically affect your work or purpose? Pray about that. If you cannot completely dedicate yourself to the work of the gospel, ask God to help you. Jesus does not want part-time disciples. "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33)

For Further Study:

(v.5) Jer 51:36; Eze 30:12; Zec 10:11; 14:18;

(v.6) ** and the. Isa 37:25; 2Ki 19:24; ** the reeds. Isa 18:2; Ex 2:3; Job 8:11;

(v.7) ** every. Isa 32:20; Jer 14:4; Eze 19:13; Joe 1:17,18;

(v.8 ) Ex 7:21; Nu 11:5; Eze 47:10; Hab 1:15;

(v.9) ** work. 1Ki 10:28; Pr 7:16; Eze 27:7;

(v.10) ** make. Ex 7:19; 8:5; De 11:10;

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