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Isaiah 19:11-16

Context

19:11 The officials of Zoan are nothing but fools; 1 

Pharaoh’s wise advisers give stupid advice.

How dare you say to Pharaoh,

“I am one of the sages,

one well-versed in the writings of the ancient kings?” 2 

19:12 But where, oh where, are your wise men? 3 

Let them tell you, let them find out

what the Lord who commands armies has planned for Egypt.

19:13 The officials of Zoan are fools,

the officials of Memphis 4  are misled;

the rulers 5  of her tribes lead Egypt astray.

19:14 The Lord has made them undiscerning; 6 

they lead Egypt astray in all she does,

so that she is like a drunk sliding around in his own vomit. 7 

19:15 Egypt will not be able to do a thing,

head or tail, shoots and stalk. 8 

19:16 At that time 9  the Egyptians 10  will be like women. 11  They will tremble and fear because the Lord who commands armies brandishes his fist against them. 12 

1 tn Or “certainly the officials of Zoan are fools.” אַךְ (’akh) can carry the sense, “only, nothing but,” or “certainly, surely.”

2 tn Heb “A son of wise men am I, a son of ancient kings.” The term בֶּן (ben, “son of”) could refer to literal descent, but many understand the word, at least in the first line, in its idiomatic sense of “member [of a guild].” See HALOT 138 s.v. בֶּן and J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:371. If this is the case, then one can take the word in a figurative sense in the second line as well, the “son of ancient kings” being one devoted to their memory as preserved in their literature.

3 tn Heb “Where are they? Where are your wise men?” The juxtaposition of the interrogative pronouns is emphatic. See HALOT 38 s.v. אֶי.

4 tn Heb “Noph” (so KJV); most recent English versions substitute the more familiar “Memphis.”

5 tn Heb “the cornerstone.” The singular form should be emended to a plural.

6 tn Heb “the Lord has mixed into her midst a spirit of blindness.”

7 tn Heb “like the going astray of a drunkard in his vomit.”

8 tn Heb “And there will not be for Egypt a deed, which head and tail, shoot and stalk can do.” In 9:14-15 the phrase “head or tail” refers to leaders and prophets, respectively. This interpretation makes good sense in this context, where both leaders and advisers (probably including prophets and diviners) are mentioned (vv. 11-14). Here, as in 9:14, “shoots and stalk” picture a reed, which symbolizes the leadership of the nation in its entirety.

9 tn Heb “in that day” (so KJV), likewise at the beginning of vv. 18 and 19.

10 tn Heb “Egypt,” which stands by metonymy for the country’s inhabitants.

11 sn As the rest of the verse indicates, the point of the simile is that the Egyptians will be relatively weak physically and will wilt in fear before the Lord’s onslaught.

12 tn Heb “and he will tremble and be afraid because of the brandishing of the hand of the Lord who commands armies [traditionally, the Lord of hosts], which he brandishes against him.” Since according to the imagery here the Lord’s “hand” is raised as a weapon against the Egyptians, the term “fist” has been used in the translation.



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