Egypt in Biblical Prophecy

This article continues comments I made in a previous article on current prophetic interest in Egypt. Wilbur M. Smith notes in his 1957 book Egypt in Biblical Prophecy “that there are approximately 250 verses in the Old Testament which, at the time they were uttered, were prophecies of events yet to take place. . . . Many of these prophecies have been fulfilled, of course, since the time of their utterance, e.g., the predictions of the wars of the Ptolemaic kings in Daniel 11.”(1)  Smith also notes he was surprised that on doing “a full investigation of the prophecies of the Old Testament relative to this ancient kingdom, and the future of this geographical area” that no one had done a study on the subject before him. In doing research at the New York Public Library, more than sixteen thousand items on Ancient Egypt were listed, “many of them relating to ‘Egypt and the Bible,’ yet there is not a single reference, either to articles in periodicals, or to books, to Biblical prophecies about Egypt.” Smith does not comment on why there was almost no information related to Egypt and Bible prophecy in the extant literature of his day.

Smith does offer some helpful and judicious comments on interpreting Bible prophecy. I found this statement to be one of his best:

Many attempts have been made to relate events contemporary with the writing of a given volume to certain Biblical prophecies—the fall of some government, the destruction of some famous city of the Near East, the enlargement of the boundaries of the British Empire (we perhaps will not hear too much about this in the future), etc. Many authors have lived long enough to regret some of their unjustified and strained interpretations. (7).

Mark Hitchcock, a contemporary prophecy writer, references Smith’s calculation that “there are approximately 250 verses in the Old Testament that, at the time they were given, were prophecies of events yet to take place in Egypt.”(2) Nothing is said about any verses from the New Testament that deal with Egypt’s end-time place in prophecy. In fact, there is not a single verse in the New Testament that mentions anything about a prophetic role for any mid-eastern nation, including Israel! This means that the burden of proof is on the futurist to prove that Old Testament prophetic passages related to Egypt are (1) yet to be fulfilled in some cataclysmic end-time scenario, (2)  in a post-rapture event (the seven-year Great Tribulation), or (3) in the dispensational version of the “millennium” of Revelation 20.

This does not mean that the New Testament is silent on Egypt. We learn that Joseph had been warned in a dream to escape to Egypt for sanctuary to avoid the murderous plot of Herod (Matt. 2:13–15). We’re told that this event fulfills prophecy: “And out of Egypt I called My son,” a verse that applied to national Israel (Ex. 4:22; Hosea 11:1) but now applies to Jesus (Matt. 2:15). Israel’s history with Egypt is recounted in several places in the New Testament (Acts 7:7–40; 13:17; Heb. 3:16; 8:9; 11:26–27; Jude 1:5), but nothing is said about a prophetic future for the nation. In Revelation, “the great city” Jerusalem is “mystically . . . called Sodom and Egypt,” the place where Jesus was crucified (11:8). There is nothing else about Egypt in the New Testament, not even in Revelation 20 where dispensational writer Hitchcock claims Egypt “will institute true worship of God” (Isa. 19:18–21), the “people of Egypt will go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of the Lord” (Zech. 14:16–19), and “the Lord will build a highway between Egypt, Israel, and Assyria (Iraq)” (Isa. 11:15–16; 19:23–25). Read Revelation 20 and see if you can find any mention of these.

Let’s look at some of his support passages, beginning with Isaiah 11:15–16. This is not about a return of Egyptians but of captive Israelites who were residing in Egypt. The return occurred after the Babylonian captivity: “Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea” (11:11). When was the first time?: When God brought them “out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders” (Deut. 26:8).(3)

Dispensationalists try to argue that Israel did not return after the captivity. According to the Bible, as a remnant, they did (Ezra 9:13, 15; see Rom. 11:5). In Ezra 6:17, we read, “They offered for the dedication of this temple of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel” (also see 2:70; 8:35). We see further evidence that a believing remnant from the captivity from Israel returned to the land: “The sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem” (also see Ezra 9:1; 10:1, 5). This returning remnant was “scattered . . . in the most remote parts of the heavens” and returned to the land as God had promised, as a believing remnant. This included those Jews who resided in Egypt.

How do we explain “dry up the tongue of the Sea of Egypt . . . and there will be a highway from Assyria”? (Isa. 11:15–16). The language is no different from when God says “He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him and the valleys will be split, like wax before the fire, like water poured down a steep place” (Micah 1:3–4), or when we read “EVERY RAVINE WILL BE FILLED, AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL WILL BE BROUGHT LOW” (Luke 3:5), language taken from Isaiah 40:3–4 that Luke uses under the direction of the Holy Spirit to describe the public ministry of Jesus. Compare Isaiah 40:3 with Isaiah 11:16 and the use of “highway.” Both passages use the same Hebrew word.

Can we argue that at Pentecost a highway for the gospel was open to Egypt and there were Jews still living there? Remember what we read in Acts 2:5, 9–11: “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. . . . Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.”

Israelites lived all over the then-known world (James 1:1), including Egypt, prior to Jesus’ ministry. In fact, a temple was built for Jews who were living in Egypt. This was years before Herod I (the Great) began his reconstruction program on the post exilic temple in 19 B.C.:

The temple at Leontopolis [about 20 miles from Memphis in Lower Egypt] was founded by Onias IV, the son of Onias III whom Antiochus IV deposed from the high-priesthood in 174 B.C. He migrated to Egypt about 161 B.C., when Alcimus was appointed high priest in Jerusalem (cf. I Macc. 7:5ff), and was welcomed by Ptolemy VI, who authorized the building of the Leontopolis temple. Here, under the Zadokite high priest, a sacrificial ritual modeled on that of Jerusalem persisted for 230 years, until it was suppressed  by Vespasian [in A.D. 73, just three years after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem] (Josephus, BJ [Bellum Judaicum or The Jewish War] vii, 423–32; Ant. xiii, 62–73).(4)

In Acts 1:8 we read how the gospel is first commissioned for Jerusalem and Judea (2–8:3), Samaria (8:4–25) and to the ends of the earth (8:26-28:1–28; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6, 23). To recap, Isaiah 11:16–16 was partially fulfilled when a remnant of Israelites returned from their bondage under Assyria and Babylon. It was later given a greater fulfillment when a highway for the gospel was opened for the world “with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Isa. 52:7; Eph. 6:15), including Egypt (Rom. 1:8; 10:18; 16:25–28; Col. 1:6, 23; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:16).

Isaiah 19:16–25 has been interpreted in various ways over the centuries. Edward J. Young does a good job describing the various viable and popular ones in the second volume of his three-volume commentary on Isaiah. “Highway” language is used again (19:23). Some take this as a literal highway. As we’ve seen, it’s most unlikely that an actual physical is in view. I suspect that prophecy writers might want to see it as the “information highway” since Twitter and Google played a large part in energizing the population of Egypt to change the government in Egypt. Again, contextually and textually, a highway has more to do with access that an actual road (e.g., Isa. 35:8; 40:3; Jer. 18:15). Young writes: “The fulfillment of this promise, therefore, is Messianic” (The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 2, page 47). We learn from Paul in Ephesians, beginning with a quotation from Isaiah 57:19:

“And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:17–22).

Is Isaiah describing a greater fulfillment sometime in our future? There are many who believe so. Walter C. Kaiser is one of them as his comments on the “present crisis” demonstrate:

So, I expect a cruel leader to come out of this revolt some time, but God will replace him with a “Deliverer” for the Egyptians. In the meantime, Revival will break out all over Egypt with five cities experiencing unusual blessing of God – so much so that a tourist’s memorial is set up to remind all who come to that country in days to come of the great work of God in their midst. None of this has as yet taken place, but what a day it will be when it occurs.

There is no mention of an antichrist, “rapture,” Great Tribulation, the slaughter of millions of Jews, and a global Armageddon. He actually sounds a lot like a postmillennialist. Of course, he could be downplaying his true premillennial beliefs. But there are other interpretations of Isaiah 19 that put its fulfillment in the distant past.

So far we’ve looked at passages that describe blessings for Israel (Isa. 11) and Egypt (Isa. 19). Zechariah 14:16–19 is usually brought in at this point. There is no doubt that Zechariah 14 is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible to interpret. I can’t go into all of it here, but let me that reference to “the Feast of Booths” or Tabernacles (14:18–19) should tip us off that we are not reading about a prophecy related to our future.

“On the last day of the great day of the feast,” the Feast of Tabernacles, “Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living waters.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37–39). Jesus connects the outpouring of the Spirit with the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16–21). D.A Carson’s comments are especially significant:

Thus, although the words If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink inevitably call to mind Isaiah 55:1 (cf. also Rev. 22:1–2; Jn. 4:10–14; 6:35), the particular association of the water rite with the Feast demands that we seek more focused significance. It is clear that this Feast was associated with adequate rainfall (cf. Zc. 14:16–17—and interestingly enough, this chapter from Zechariah was read on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles in the liturgy prescribed in B. Megilla 31a), not surprisingly in light of the harvest connections. . . . The water-pouring ceremony is interpreted in these traditions as a foretaste of the eschatological rivers of living water foreseen by Ezekiel (47:1–9) and Zechariah (13:1). In these traditions the water miracle in the wilderness (Ex. 17:1–7; Nu. 20:8–13; cf. Ps. 78:16–20) is in turn a forerunner of the water rite of the Feast of Tabernacles.

In general terms, then, Jesus’ pronouncement is clear: he is the fulfillment of all the Feast of Tabernacles anticipated. If Isaiah could invite the thirsty to drink from the waters (Is. 55:1), Jesus announces that he is the one who can provide the waters.(5)

Dispensationalists see a renewed old covenant redemptive system in place during the post-rapture Great Tribulation and the following Millennium, where the temple is to be rebuilt and sacrifices offered for “atonement” (Ezek. 45:15; cf. 40:38). They have to continue this line of literalistic consistency by claiming that the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) will also be kept as an Old Covenant rite (Zech. 14:16, 19). This is impossible. The New Testament describes Jesus as the fulfillment of every element of the Old Covenant shadows, feasts included (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost): “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to [His disciples] the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. . . . That all the things which are written about [Jesus] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (24:27, 44). Jesus is the “lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36), the temple (2:29), the bread from heaven (6:48), the high priest (Heb. 5:10), and the Rock (1 Cor. 10:4). Willem VanGemeren’s comments on the shadow nature of the feasts are to the point:

Since Jesus’ coming the relevance of the Jewish religious calendar has been reduced to a shadow of things to come. Jesus is portrayed as the passover lamb (I Cor. 5:7–8). Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper instead of the passover. With the destruction of the temple, pilgrimages and special offerings have come to an end. The death of Christ, particularly, is portrayed in the NT as the final sacrifice by which man can be reconciled to God (Heb. 7:27; cf. Ch. 8).(6)

Are we really to expect that the nations of the world—several billion people—will go up to Jerusalem to live in booths “from year to year”? Is this what God is saying through Zechariah? The Feast of Booths commemorated the ingathering of the harvest, Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, God’s divine protection, and the entrance of the Jews into the Promised Land. Under the gospel, the world benefits by these same blessings.

I’ll finish up next time with Daniel 11 and the “king of the South.” It’s this passage the futurists use to argue for an end-time apocalyptic role for Egypt.Endnotes:

  1. Wilbur M. Smith, Egypt in Biblical Prophecy (Boston: W. A. Wilde Company, 1957), 6.()
  2. Mark Hitchcock, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 102.()
  3. See William Hendriksen, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1974) for a discussion of Isaiah 11 and other relevant passages.()
  4. F.F. Bruce, New Testament History (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1971), 5, note 7.()
  5. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 322–323.()
  6. Willem VanGemeren, “Old Testament Feasts and Festivals,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), 412.()

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