New Defender's Study Bible Notes
19:3 familiar spirits. Even more than most of the other pagan nations around Israel, Egypt was involved in occult beliefs and practices (e.g., the magicians at the court of Pharaoh at the time of Moses). But such practices would utterly fail them in a time of God’s judgment, as in any nation that becomes committed to such blasphemies.
19:4 cruel lord. See Isaiah 20:4. The Egyptians at the time were dominated by Assyria, but then participated in a rebellion instigated by the rulers of Ashdod, in Philistia. As a result, many Egyptians were led in shame into captivity into Assyria. The “cruel lord” and “fierce king” was evidently Sargon. This prophecy may also have anticipated a future similar and greater defeat by Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (see Ezekiel 29:19).
19:5 dried up. The troubles experienced by Egypt described in Isaiah 19:5-15 were sent as a judgment from God, associated with the Assyrian and later Babylonian invasions and captivities. See also Ezekiel 29–30. Although the secular histories of Egypt during these periods (from about 720 B.C. to about 570 B.C.) are sparse (the defeated Egyptians would be unlikely to record such events due to their national pride), there is good reason to believe that they were all fulfilled as written. It is known that the Nile flow following drought periods in its headwater region did diminish seriously on various occasions in the past.
19:7 paper reeds. Ancient Egypt was noted for its papyrus, produced from the reeds that grew abundantly along the Nile and its branches. These large rushes were used not only to produce paper, but also clothes, bedding, sails and other products. Yet not only did the waters of the Nile diminish in later centuries, and several of its branches dry up, but the abundant papyrus and lotus plants also eventually became all but extinct. The Egyptian government in modern times has tried to remedy some of this deterioration by controlling the flow of the Nile with its Aswan Dam, but this project has been fraught with problems and has proved largely unsuccessful.
19:8 fishers also shall mourn. The Nile River in Biblical times abounded with commercial fishing. With the papyrus plants gone, the fish lost their breeding grounds, and today there are essentially no fish of commercial value in the Nile.
19:19 a pillar. This altar and pillar have been interpreted by many to refer to the great pyramid. This pyramid is, indeed, a remarkable structure, exhibiting a high degree of technical knowledge. However, the pyramid was already old in Isaiah’s day, and the prophecy indicates that the fulfillment was to be far in the future, probably referring to a structure not yet built.
19:22 to the LORD. Egypt’s prophesied national turning to the Lord is still in the future. However, many of the original Egyptians, now known as Copts, did indeed become Christians, and a small Coptic church still exists today in the midst of the modern Arabic Egypt.
19:23 Egypt to Assyria. This commercial and spiritual fellowship of Israel, Egypt, and Assyria can only be accomplished in the coming kingdom age. Egypt and Assyria (now Iraq and Syria) have always been enemies of Israel, and still are, but this will change in that day.