Continuing the rebuke on Israel’s turn to Egypt for deliverance from Assyria, chapter 31 begins with a pronouncement of coming disaster: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help.” In their fear of the Assyrian armies, Israel seeks an alliance with Egypt for protection (see 30:1-2). Egypt looked impressive as an ally with its many chariots and strong horsemen (31:1). Israel banks on the military muscle Egypt offered rather than looking “to the Holy One of Israel” and consulting the Lord (1).
Big mistake. The Lord had repeatedly warned against trusting in other saviours and “he does not call back his words” (2). Faithful to His word and “wise” in his works, God would bring “disaster” (2). His judgment would come down, not only on Israel (“the house of evildoers”—2), but on Egypt (“the helpers of those who work iniquity”—2).
Israel had foolishly decided Egypt’s impressive military was a better option than relying on the Holy One of Israel. They overestimated the might of Egypt and vastly underestimated God’s power: “The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit” (3). When God “stretches out his hand, the helper (Egypt) will stumble, and he who is helped (Israel) will fall, and they will all perish together” (3).
Israel needed to get a fresh vision of their God. So, the Lord gives Isaiah two word pictures to communicate to His people. The Lord is like a “young lion” growling over his prey, undisturbed by the shouts of nearby shepherds (4). He is also like a bird hovering over its young to protect it (5). In short, He can attack and devour (like a lion) or defend and protect (like a bird). In His faithfulness, He promises to “fight on Mount Zion” (4) and “protect Jerusalem” (5). Realizing God’s power and promises, Israel is exhorted: “Turn to him from whom people have deeply revolted, O children of Israel” (6). The “stubborn children” (30:1) need to repent of their unbelief and unfaithfulness, turning back to the only One who can save them.
Isaiah pictures a day when this turning will indeed take place. “For in that day everyone shall cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you” (7, see 30:22). When Israel does come to a place of returning and rest (30:15), it will be ashamed of trusting in false gods (idols or Egyptians).
They will also see the deliverance of God. Assyria will be taken down by God himself, without human help. “And the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of man, and a sword, not of man, shall devour him” (8). His young men who survive will become “forced labour” (8). Their “rock” (idols? king?) will “pass away in terror” and their “officers desert the standard in panic” (9).
In just a few years, these prophetic promises would take place. Isaiah 37 records the Lord’s sword (not the sword of man) slaying 185,000 Assyrian troops. The king, Sennacherib (their Rock) is assassinated (“passes away in terror”) by his son, who flees to the land of Ararat (officers deserting the standard in panic). All this happens because of the declaration of the Lord “whose fire is in Zion and whose furnace is in Jerusalem” (9). The Lord’s passion and power burn hot in and for His holy place.
Behold Your God
The Lord easily thwarts the plans of powerful nations and their allies. Judah was enamoured with Egypt because of its many chariots and strong horsemen. From a human perspective, they were a powerhouse. But when the Lord “stretches out his hand” (3) to signal “stop”, the mighty stumble and “perish together.” We often read in Scripture about the Lord’s powerful arm (30:30), but even “the stretching out of his hand” stops armies and changes history. God’s defeat of the Assyrian armies stands as a lasting reminder of His unmatched power (Isa 37).
The Lord devours and defends in order to protect His people. The Lord describes himself to Isaiah as a young lion that growls over its prey and as a bird that hovers to protect its young. In both cases He acts “on Mount Zion” (4) to “protect Jerusalem” (5). This vision of God is meant to move Israel to “turn to him” instead of revolting against Him (6). God’s saving actions on their behalf will one day (“in that day”—7) motivate Israel to “cast away” the idols they’ve “sinfully made” (7).
Here Am I
If we “go down to Egypt” we will go down. Looking for help in all the wrong places, the people of Judah “go down to Egypt” (1). This results in their downfall. Instead of having God’s good hand upon them they experience His powerful hand stretched out against them (3). Here is a cautionary tale of “woe” for all of us who look for deliverance in “man” and “flesh” (3). Not only will we learn that human help comes up short, but we will also find God actively opposing our efforts to find help apart from Him. I must resist relying on man to do what only God can do.
When we revolt by turning away from God, we must repent and turn back to Him. Graciously, God gives wayward people a chance to turn around and come back to Him. He implores and invites us to repent even after we’ve revolted. His grace grants another chance. I want to be quick to repent and return to the Lord, casting away confidence in frail humans and false gods (7).