President Barack Obama's visit to Cairo returned the spotlight on Egypt. Egypt is mentioned with ominous overtones in much of the Bible, but prophecies show much brighter symbolism for the future!
U.S. President Barack Obama recently visited Egypt as the first stop on his tour of the Middle East. He delivered a speech at Cairo University in which he characterized the peace process as seeking "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims" ("Egyptians Positive on Obama Speech," BBC News, June 4, 2009).
Part of the reason for selecting Egypt as the location for this historic speech is because it is a major Muslim power and the most populous country in the Arab world.
"Obama directly enlisted a religion [Islam] to build global peace and to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, end nuclear proliferation and stop terrorism" (Feisal Abdul Rauf, "Obama's Challenge to the Muslim World," The Washington Post, June 5, 2009).
President Obama sees Islam as central to resolving peace in the world. In the speech "he declared that the United States is not at war with Islam and outlined a plan for how the conflict can be resolved. Perhaps most important, he put religion at the core of the peacemaking process" ("Obama's Challenge to Both America and Islam," Lansing State Journal, June 8, 2009).
Religion is at the heart and core of eventual peace in the world. The president was correct in stating that. However, will it happen according to his outline? According to Bible prophecy, peace will come and Egypt will be one of the symbols of that peace. Why Egypt? What is so significant about that nation as far as the Bible is concerned?
Egypt is one of the oldest centers of civilization on the face of the earth, with a history dwarfing most other societies anywhere on earth. Its pyramids, sphinxes and rich architectural wonders are major tourist attractions that span centuries of time.
But more importantly, the Bible shows that Egypt represents something that God not only dealt with in the past but will deal with in the future—false religion!
Egypt, a spiritual symbol
In Revelation 11 we read about two witnesses who prophesy in Jerusalem against a power that will come against it. This power, elsewhere called the Beast, "will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months" (Revelation:11:2).
This Beast (a super economic-military power) will eventually have the two witnesses killed and their dead bodies will be left "in the street of the great city [Jerusalem] which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt , where also our Lord was crucified" (verse 8, emphasis added throughout).
Why is Jerusalem to be spiritually symbolized as not only Sodom (known for its wickedness) but also Egypt? Egypt symbolizes false religion that the God of the Bible had to punish. Earlier in verse 6 the two witnesses are shown to strike the earth with plagues reminiscent of the plagues God brought on Egypt.
"Against the gods of Egypt"
Most Bible students are familiar with the 10 plagues that God brought on ancient Egypt to deliver the children of Israel from slavery under a cruel pharaoh. In each one of the plagues a devastating disaster occurred, but the pharaoh of Egypt would not let Israel go. The last plague involved the death of the firstborn of Egypt, and finally the pharaoh relented and released Israel.
In a summary statement God said in Exodus:12:12 that this plague and even all of the plagues were directed "against all the gods of Egypt." Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Bible Commentary says: "The whole system of Egyptian idolatry, with its disgusting details of the intrigues and incest of gods and goddesses, was a foul debasing mass of superstition."
The Egyptian system of worship was based on sun worship with a whole host of other gods built around it. This pagan worship was disgusting to God, and He took action against it.
What was not explained in the book of Exodus is that the children of Israel had become engaged in the idolatry of those gods. Ezekiel 20 explains that God was angry with Israel for their pagan idolatry and that He brought them out by means of the plagues so that He did not have to punish them in the sight of the Egyptians.
Egyptian idolatry and its system of false gods did not end with the 10 plagues. Actually Osiris and Isis, the most prominent of their gods, were borrowed by the Greek and Roman empires. They simply changed their names and adopted them into their pantheon of gods.
This system of false worship with its fascination and focus on the sun as an object of veneration has its imprints even in modern-day Christianity, which took root in ancient Rome, where a fascination with the civilizations and religions of the East flourished. (To understand more, read our free booklet The Church Jesus Built )
It is because of this false system of religion that God had to judge and bring plagues on the Egyptians.
In the future another religious system that is described in Revelation as "Babylon" will be judged by God with plagues and is prophesied to fall, paving the way for peace and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
A new symbol for Egypt
But while Egypt has symbolized false religion throughout the ages, a change is coming according to another Bible prophecy. Egypt will become a symbol of worship toward the true God of the Bible.
Isaiah 19 describes the judgment of the "idols" of Egypt in the first part of the chapter, but in verses 19 and 20 it talks about an altar and a pillar that "will be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt." Egypt will be known at that time for its worship of the God of the Bible (verse 21).
The prophecy in Isaiah 19 concludes with a wonderful description of peace and harmony by the uniting together of three ancient enemies: Egypt, Assyria and Israel.
That future world of peace is symbolized in this section of Scripture as a "highway" of universal goodwill and understanding, but in actuality it is a highway of worship to God.
"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians" (verse 23).
The Bible Reader's Companion says that the word highway "indicates the close relationship between once hostile nations forged by a shared commitment to the God of the Jews."
Verses 24-25 further describe that shared commitment to God: "In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, 'Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance."
It is significant that the president of the United States chose this particular country, Egypt—the very nation that will be a symbol of peace and harmony that eventually will be in the world in the Kingdom of God—to deliver a speech calling for eventual peace between nations.
The Bible Reader's Companion summarizes the beauty of that future time by saying: "When God can say of Egypt and Assyria as well as of Israel, 'my people' (v. 25), the world will have peace and blessing at last." WNP