Chapters 30-31 confront a situation going on in Judah during Isaiah’s ministry: God’s people, frightened by the advance of the Assyrians, were turning to Egypt for protection. Rather than look to the Lord, seeking His direction and asking him to defend them, Judah turned to Egypt. As Isaiah will indicate, this political and military alliance was evidence of a deeper spiritual problem.
Isaiah opens by conveying the Lord’s awareness and displeasure with Judah’s alliance with Egypt: “’Ah, stubborn children,’ declares the Lord, ‘who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin, who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt’” (1-2). Fearing the advance of the Assyrian armies, Judah strikes an agreement with Egypt to provide military muscle and protection. But, as the Lord indicates, this alliance will disappoint and cause shame. Though Israel makes the dangerous journey across the Negev desert to pay off Egypt (4, 6), no help will come to them. Israel will be put to “shame and disgrace” (5). Egypt’s promised help will prove “worthless and empty” (7).
The Lord instructs Isaiah to write this down as a “witness forever” to his rebellious people (8,9). Not only are they unwilling to ask the Lord’s direction and intervention, they actively silence the prophets who would speak in God’s name. They only want “smooth” messages from God; they want “illusions” that don’t confront their unbelief and disobedience (10). They have no desire to hear about “the Holy One of Israel” (11).
As a result of their hard, wayward hearts, the Lord sends a word of judgment. Because they “despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness”, they will suddenly crumble like a high wall that gives way (12-13). They will be utterly shattered, like a clay jar that is thrown down “ruthlessly”, with no shards left large enough to scoop up coals from a fire or water from a well (14).
But it didn’t have to turn out this way. The Lord reminds them of the path to blessing: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (15). Sadly, Israel was unwilling to hear or heed God’s word. In their panic, they insisted they must “flee” to Egypt for help (16). As a result, the Lord says, they will indeed flee away: “A thousand shall flee at the threat of one, and at the threat of five you shall flee” (17). As a result, Judah will become “like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill” (17); they will give visible witness to the surrounding nations of the tragic result of turning away from the Lord.
Still, God’s heart for His people remains tender and kind: “Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you” (18). The reason He remains committed to His wayward people is found in His character: “For the Lord is a God of justice” (18). Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful for He cannot disown Himself (2 Tim 2:13). Because of His unchanging character, Isaiah can say, “Blessed are all those who wait for him” (18).
Isaiah looks ahead to brighter days when God’s people “cry” to Him for help and He graciously responds; “As soon as he hears it, he answers you” (19). The very one who disciplined His people by giving them “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,” will once again become their “Teacher” (20). He will instruct them on how to live and what to do: “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’” (21).
Walking in God’s ways, Israel will discard their expensive, but worthless idols (22). They will once again know God’s blessing of rain for their crops and rich pasture for their livestock (23-24). Creation itself will shine brighter (moon and sun) on “the day when the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow” (26).
While God will guide and glorify His people, He will also judge the surrounding nations (27-33). Isaiah pictures Israel singing in peace at the very time God descends in fury to strike the nations. His “majestic voice” will be heard and “the descending blow of his arm” will be seen, leaving the Assyrians (representatives of the world powers) “terror stricken” (31). God’s judgment on the nations is no rash, sudden fit of anger. Isaiah makes it clear that a “burning place” of judgment has “long been prepared” (33). In His time, God’s burning judgment will break hot and heavy upon a wayward world.
Behold Your God
The Lord knows all our attempts to find protection apart from Him are worthless and empty. Judah’s alliances with Egypt prove “worthless and empty” (7). So are all efforts to find security apart from the Lord. He is the “Holy One of Israel” (11, 12, 15) who alone has power to protect. Here is a cautionary tale: what am I trusting in to get me safely through life? While prudent action is not contrary to God’s purposes, faithless action offends Him.
The Lord wants His people to rely and rest in Him when fearful and threatened. The people of Judah, having seen what the Assyrian armies do to the northern kingdom are understandably agitated and afraid. However, in their fear they turn to Egypt not to their God (1-7). Instead of asking the Lord for “direction” (2) and trusting Him for protection (15), they form political alliances with their old slave masters, Egypt. The lesson here is that God wants us to turn to Him, seek His counsel and rely on His power when we are afraid. Failing to do this constitutes rebellious unbelief.
The Lord desires to graciously and powerfully intervene on behalf of His people. Isaiah reminds us that “the Lord waits to be gracious to you” (18). Showing mercy is part of His justice as it vindicates His promises (18). What an amazing God we have who is pictured waiting for us to turn to him and “cry” to Him (19). “As soon as he hears it, he answers you” (19). The Lord would be justified to cast off His faithless, rebellious people; instead, in his grace and justice, He waits for us to turn to Him and promises to come to us!
The Lord is our Teacher who tells us the way to go in life. Isaiah promises Israel their “eyes shall see your Teacher” (20). Their ears will hear Him give direction: “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’” (21). This promise finds its fulfillment in the coming of Christ as our Teacher (Rabbi). His teachings mark out the path to life. His Spirit continues to lead us in His way (Rom 8:16).
The Lord will heal the hurts He inflicts when we return and rest in Him. Isaiah makes it clear that God brings hardship and hurt to His wayward people. He gives “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (20). Yet, the amazing truth remains: when we return (repent) and rest (trust) in Him, “the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow” (26). As Hosea, Isaiah’s fellow-prophet, wrote, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hos. 6:1).
The Lord will unleash his righteous, burning fury upon those who remain his enemies. While those who repent find mercy, those who resist experience God’s righteous fury (27-33). His majestic voice will be heard and His powerful arm will be seen “in furious anger” (30). His judgment will sweep through like a flood (28) and burn like a pyre stoked with “fire and wood in abundance” (33). It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living, holy God (Heb. 10:31).
Here Am I
I must ask the Lord’s direction so my plans line up with His plans. Judah’s fatal flaw in their planning process was working independently of the Lord. They invested great effort and expense in forming a protective alliance with Egypt. However, this plan was not in line with God’s plans and would only lead to wasted effort and a painful legacy of shattering failure (1-8, 13-14). As I make plans, I want to intentionally seek God’s direction and line up all my plans with what I know of His will. His plans stand when all others fail (Prov 16:3, 9; Psalm 33:11).
The only way I can make plans that align with God’s plan is to eagerly hear His Word. The leaders and people of Judah despised the word of the Lord, telling their prophets not to speak about “the Holy One of Israel” (8-10). Those who reject God’s word wind up guilty of “oppression and perverseness” in their attempts to chart their own way through life (12). I want to eagerly and continually abide in God’s Word so that my ways increasingly mirror His ways and my plans line up with His revealed will.
I must return and rest in God when tempted to run looking for deliverance from problems. In their panic, Judah raced to Egypt to get help. Instead, the Lord wanted them to turn (or return) to Him and rest (rely) on Him for strength and salvation (15). When I am frightened, tempted to flee from trouble, I must quiet my heart and rest trustingly in God. As I “wait for him”, I will see His grace and mercy (18). As I trust and listen to Him, He will direct me on which way to go (“This is the way, walk in it”—21). Resting and waiting comes before planning and action. So, I must head to the “mountain of the Lord” rather than to Egypt when trouble looms (29). He is the One who rules and judges the nations (25-33); He is the One who brings deliverance and “gladness of heart” to His people (29). I can trust in the Holy One of Israel.