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In Isaiah 52:4, translations vary around Assyria. Is the oppressor an Assyrian in Egypt or is Assyria a new oppression like the prior oppression in Egypt.

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    Could you provide more background detail to the question ? What translations are you comparing ?
    – Nigel J
    Jan 17, 2023 at 4:45
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    Isa 52:4 is rather uncomplicated; "For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “For this is what the Lord GOD says: “At first My people went down to Egypt to live, then Assyria oppressed them without cause." What is your question exactly?
    – Dottard
    Jan 17, 2023 at 5:57
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    It is a sequence of two oppressions. One ending in the Exodus. The other being the Assyrian invasions described in 2 Kings. The prophets should always be read with the historical background in mind. Jan 17, 2023 at 6:46
  • I’m comparing ESV, NRSV and NKJV with “the Assyrian” versus NIV, NLT and NET with “Assyria”. The former reads like a person and the latter like a nation. Is “the Assyrian” an individual? Jan 17, 2023 at 19:53
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    @EricPhillips, it would help if the Question itself included explicit quotations of the relevant translations. That would make it much easier for readers to understand what is actually being asked. (And comments are ephemeral and can go away at any time, so putting useful information into comments about one's own posting isn't recommended on this or any other Stack Exchange site.) Jan 19, 2023 at 13:35

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Assyria and its various leaders did not exist when Israel was in Egypt, so the best way to understand this verse is to see "the Assyrian" (Ashur) as a new oppressor. This did happen in fact, historically, as the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel c. 722 BCE and later nearly did the same with Judah.

In the fourteenth year of King Hezeki′ah Sennach′erib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And Hezeki′ah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezeki′ah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezeki′ah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king’s house. (2 Kings 18:13-15)

Although a literal translation - (YLT) To Egypt My people went down at first to sojourn there, And Asshur for nought he hath oppressed it - does not immediately yield the meaning that I suggest, many translators have understood it properly and render it according:

  • CEB - Long ago my people went down to reside in Egypt. Moreover, Assyria has oppressed them without cause.

  • DARBY - My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and Assyria oppressed them without cause.

  • NLT - Long ago my people chose to live in Egypt. Now they are oppressed by Assyria.

  • NRSVA Long ago, my people went down into Egypt to reside there as aliens; the Assyrian, too, has oppressed them without cause.

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Incidentally, Ashur, the name that appears in the Hebrew version of this verse, was not the name of a particular leader but of the primary deity of the Assyrians. So the word certainly refers to the nation collectively, not a specific person. Regarding the Assyrians themselves, the World History Encyclopedia notes that they were known for their cruelty against the peoples they conquered, especially in the period when the force the people of Israel into exile.

Conclusion: The meaning of the verse cited in the OP is that first Egypt oppressed Israel/Judah, and now Assyria has done likewise.

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The MT (Codex Leningrad) for Isaiah 52:4 is:

כִּי כֹה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה מִצְרַיִם יָרַד עַמִּי בָרִאשֹׁנָה לָגוּר שָׁם וְאַשּׁוּר בְּאֶפֶס עֲשָׁקוֹ

In this verse, Egypt (מִצְרַיִם) is a place name as we see from the continuation, רַד עַמִּי בָרִאשֹׁנָה לָגוּר שָׁם, "my people went down to sojourn there". This is a reference to the Egyptian exile, the first exile.

The verse continues, וְאַשּׁוּר בְּאֶפֶס עֲשָׁקוֹ, And Assyria oppressed him [my people] callously [or without cause]. Here "Assyria" is the name of a nation, masculine singular.

The names Egypt (מִצְרַיִם) and Assyria (אַשּׁוּר) could each be either place names or names of nations, the context disambiguates.

There is no definite article "the" preceding Assyria in the MT. This addition in the ESV and other translations is puzzling.

This verse is written in the style known as Biblical parallelism. The parallel is between two experiences of oppression, the first of Egyptian bondage, the second of Assyrian displacement. The verse could be suggesting a difference between the two exiles, that the first exile was a result of our forefathers going to Egypt on their own, whereas the Assyrian exile was not of our doing (בְּאֶפֶס)*

In this verse the prophet is addressing the Jewish people of his time in exile. These are people whose daily liturgy includes remembrance of the delivery from Egypt. These are people who celebrate Passover. So it is natural for the prophet to reference the earlier exile with respect to the present.

The point of the verse is to say that like the past Egyptian exile and bondage, the current Assyrian displacement and exile is no longer justified and will soon end. The verses that follow continue this theme with a prophecy of redemption from the Assyrian exile.


  • RASHI, R. Joseph Kara, R. Eliezer of Beaugency, R. Isaiah di Trani
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It isn't foreign of God to talk about a people as if they were one person. In fact, he does this with the Assyrians again in Isaiah 10:5–11:

5 Ho Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, the staff in whose hand is mine indignation! 6 I will send him against a profane nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7 Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few. 8 For he saith, Are not my princes all of them kings? 9 Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus? 10 As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria; 11 shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?

The name here is אַשּׁוּר (ashúr, ʾaššûr) and it's the same as in Isaiah 52:4.

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  • BTW, one of the reasons some commentators think the later parts of Isaiah are from a different writer than the early parts is that the early pats (such as ch. 10) see Assyria as an agent of God's wrath ("the rod of mine anger") while the later parts view him as having oppressed Israel unjustly. Jan 20, 2023 at 1:13

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