“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them saying, ‘Bless be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’”
— Isaiah 19:23-25 NIV
I’ll never forget reading this passage for the first time. We’ve been socialized enough in the United States to believe God loves us, and in fact probably think he’s more pleased with us than He really may be!
But because Egypt is so prominently against Israel, Moses and Assyria is used as the hammer for smashing Israel and Judah, I don’t find myself imagining God calling them his people, his handiwork.
But there it is in the prophet Isaiah. God doesn’t only challenge behavior of Israel and Judah. God’s challenges and oracles from Isaiah go out to Assyria and Egypt as well. Further, God’s blessing goes out not only to Israel and Judah. God also wants to bless Egypt, who God calls “my people,” and Assyria, who God calls “my handiwork,” as well as Israel, who God calls “my inheritance.”
This changed my whole way of viewing Israel, other nations then and now. I can now say more than “God bless America.” I can also say, “God bless Egypt.” I can say, “God bless Israel.” I can say, “God bless Russia.” I can say, “God bless Uganda.” I can say, “God bless North Korea.” I can say, “God bless Iran.”
In other words, “God bless all nations. God bless the world.”
Jim Wallis said recently, “All allegiances are secondary to allegiance to God.” Yes, this is one of the key messages of Isaiah to Judah: “Trust in God not yourselves and your alliances.”
How can we take this ancient book and get to these kinds of applications about trust and allegiances in following Jesus today? One of the best and most helpful things I can teach you about reading the prophets and making application today is to pay attention to the following as you read.
1. Who is speaking?
God? Isaiah? A king? A nation or God quoting a national voice?
2. Who are the hearers of the speaking?
Is it the prophet listening? Is God speaking directly to the nation? Is it to Samaria or Israel to the North? Is it to Judah in the South? Who is the audience?
3. What other writings can give you background, specifically within the Bible itself?
For Isaiah, for example, the background is giving in 2 Kings 16-25 about how Isaiah prophesied to four kings, and more detail about these kings is given. You can also read in 2 Chronicles 26-32. You can also find helpful background in other prophets contemporary with Isaiah. The prophets contemporary to Isaiah, even if some of them worked in Israel to the North, are Micah, Amos, and Hosea.
4. What are the themes and metaphors being used?
We can’t always know for sure who certain symbols and references point to, but many can be discerned by careful reading with a study Bible and reading in context. In other words, reading whole chapters and chapter to chapter seeing the connections from one thing to the next.
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.