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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 19:12-15

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 24, 2008

More than 700 years after Isaiah’s ministry, Paul reminded the Corinthians that faith is not a matter of education or of wisdom: Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? (1 Corinthians 1:20). Paul was reflecting these words spoken by Isaiah against Egypt:

12 Where are your wise men now?
      Let them show you and make known
what the LORD Almighty
     has planned against Egypt.
13 The officials of Zoan have become fools,
     the leaders of Memphis are deceived;
the cornerstones of her peoples
     have led Egypt astray.
14 The LORD has poured into them
     a spirit of dizziness;
they make Egypt stagger in all that she does,
     as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit.
15 There is nothing Egypt can do—
     head or tail, palm branch or reed. (NIV)

Egypt’s wise men couldn’t stand against Moses. After they thought they did “the old stick changing into a snake” trick as well as Moses and Aaron, Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs (Exodus 7:12). They tried again during the first plague, and they, too, were able to turn water into blood (Exodus 7:22). And they made frogs appear, as well (Exodus 8:7). But by the time of the third plague, they knew they were up against “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).

Now, Isaiah said, Egypt needs to finally let go of its idols. The wise men are anything but wise. They should be cornerstones, but they’re bad cornerstones.

In ancient times, a cornerstone was supposed to be a perfectly cut stone, with the precise angles and often the exact dimensions in miniature of the finished building. It was not a mere decoration; it was the blueprint. If it was off by a degree or two, the building would not last. The wise men, the cornerstones of all Egypt, were off by a lot more than a degree or two. They were off by every decree of the Lord. The entire building of the Egyptian nation could not stand, because it was built up on the mud of the Nile instead of the blood of the Living Water, the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In Moses’ time, Pharaoh had momentarily confessed the truth: “This time I have sinned. The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong” (Exodus 9:27). But Pharaoh kept on hardening his heart, until the Lord himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart, too (Exodus 10:20, 11:10). Pharaoh’s time of grace ended while he was still living. But now, in Isaiah’s time, Egypt had a moment of grace left to them, as God once more reached out with the words of the prophet to show them their sin, the foolishness of their wisdom, and their need for a Savior.

The message of the Gospel does not change. God loved us so much, he became human in order to be executed for our crimes. He let our sins be counted against Jesus, and he became our sins, so that we could have his holiness credited to us (2 Corinthians 5:21). To the world, that isn’t wisdom. It’s not even very bright. It’s utter foolishness. But the crucifixion is the center of our teaching. It’s offensive and foolish to the world. Yet the teaching about the cross assures us that Jesus Christ died to pay for every sin of every person for all time. Mine, too. And yes, yours, too.


In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.