Woe to Those Who Go Down to Egypt for Help

31: 1-9

   DIG: How is this woe related to the one in 30:1? What similarities do you see? What differences? What reasoning is given here for the warning in the previous woe? If you were a leader in Judah, why would you be seeking this alliance? What have these leaders overlooked as they formed it? In contrast to the stumbling of the Egyptians, how will God help Judah during the Assyrian attack? How will the LORD be like a lion? Like a mother bird? Like a fire? How will this be like another Passover for Judah (see Exodus 12:12-13)? What will be the result for the Assyrians? For the Jews? What does it mean that God does not wait until we have repented to act mercifully on our behalf?

   REFLECT: What pressures have you felt lately? In practical terms, does relying on God in such times mean not involving the help of anyone else? How can you tell when it is wise and right to seek godly counsel? When have you actually lived as though the LORD didn’t matter? What did matter at that time? What difference does it make to you to realize that even in those times God is protecting you as a lion or a mother bird? Judah made a wrong choice in forming an alliance with Egypt. What amounts to a wrong choice for you? Is there anything that you are trusting in more than God right now? What would happen if you put the LORD first in your life?

    Like the previous woe in 30:1-7, this one was directed against the Egyptian alliance that some in Judah thought they needed for protection against the Assyrian threat. Not only would Egypt not be able to help Judah, but in going, she had rejected ADONAI. She would reject the true and choose the false. As a result, Judah would experience the terrible reality of her sin (Jeremiah 52:1-34 and the book of Lamentations). This is the fourth woe in the Book of Woes. But this one also points to the Messiah who will one day deliver His people (32:1-20).

    Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots (31:1a). What He promised in the previous chapter is going to be carried out. Those who went to Egypt for help, and who relied on Egyptian horses and chariots instead of the LORD would be punished. Both actions, going to Egypt and acquiring horses and chariots, violated the Torah (Deuteronomy 17:16). God does not go back on His words; He would judge the nation for her disobedience. Again Isaiah points out that Egypt is going to prove to be weak and helpless. The Egyptians are men, not God. The horses are made of flesh, not of Spirit. The Egyptians can only help as long as the flesh is able to help. And that will prove to be worthless, because the flesh of Assyria is stronger. Only ADONAI could ultimately protect them from their enemies. So God’s judgment will cause both Egypt and Judah to fall. Both the helper and the helped will fall together. The Egyptian alliance would fail as Isaiah had prophesied, but the LORD would not abandon His people.

    Woe to those who rely of horses, who trust in the great strength of their horsemen (31:1b). The emphasis upon horses here suggests the likely reason why Egypt’s help seemed especially attractive. Ever since the introduction of the horse into the Near East in the Middle Bronze Age (1800 BC), warfare had been revolutionized, first through chariots, then by this time, through the beginning of cavalry. Apparently this weapon had an almost magical effect on the leaders of Judah. No matter how mighty the Assyrian army might be, they thought an alliance with Egypt, with their horses and chariots, would ensure safety. So it would be like a splash of cold water in the face when Sennacherib’s field commander sarcastically commented that Judah would not know what to do with horses even if they had them. Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses - if you can put riders on them (36:8-9)!

    In the ancient Near East, at this time, horses and chariots were something like the “ultimate weapon.” When the horse, with its speed and stamina, was hitched to a light two-wheeled chariot on which was a two or three-man crew, the results could be devastating. Along with the driver, there was at least one archer with a powerful bow. In some cases there was also a spearman. They were so desirable that even countries like Judah, whose hills and valleys meant the chariots were of limited usefulness, felt they had to have a chariot force. Today, we look for defense by other kinds of armaments: shell-proof tanks, stealth aircraft, and laser-guided missiles. But where is our defense? Both nationally and personally, what is it, or who is it that we are trusting in?110

    But the destiny of a country does not rest upon either horses or missiles, and when a people feel that special weapons can relieve them of dependence upon God, they are on the road to destruction. This is not to say that weapons and faith are mutually exclusive in a fallen world, but it is safe to say that commitment to the LORD's ways, with whatever that may mean for weapons in a given situation, is of foremost importance. This kind of commitment was clearly lacking in Judah. They had not sought ADONAI’s direction, nor did they put their trust in Him. As a result of their faithlessness, God said: Do not look to the Holy One of Isra'el, or seek help from the LORD (31:1c). Judah would have to suffer the consequences of her actions.

    Isaiah taunted the leaders of Judah when he said: Yet He too is wise and can bring disaster (31:2a). Hezekiah’s royal counselors, who were supposed to be so wise, had counseled for dependence upon Egypt (5:21, 19:11-15, 28:14-15, 30:1-2). They acted as if the LORD knew nothing, as if the Creator of the universe did not really understand their situation. It was as if Isaiah was saying, “You know, God understands a little something also.” He does not take back His words (31:2b) means that if we change, this enables Him to change His approach to us (see my commentary on Jonah 3:10 and 4:1-2). God kept pursuing Jonah until he had a change of heart. He is the God of second chances, but unless we change, He is relentless as time itself. All the "Egypts" in the world cannot alter what He says.

    And if Judah carried through with her plan of faithlessness, He will rise up against the house of the wicked, against those who help evildoers (31:2c). ADONAI told it like it was when He called them the house of the wicked instead of the house of Judah. What a scathing denunciation! It didn’t matter that they were the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their birthright didn’t matter and neither did their supposed alliances. If Judah refused to trust in the LORD, far from being the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10), He would be forced to discipline her because He loved her so much.

    So just how do you get faith? Or trust? Or belief? Where does it come from? The Bible teaches us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is a decision. The world famous evangelist Billy Graham’s magazine is named “Decision” for that very reason. And everyone will eventually stand in front of Jesus Christ, the Judge (John 5:22), to be held accountable for what they decide. If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 also see First Corinthians 15:3-4). Our love for God needs to be greater than whatever it is that we fear. Most of the time we don’t feel like it. Our flesh wants the evidence first. But after the decision based on faith is made, the feelings follow. Some people get the cart before the horse, but it doesn’t work that way.

    The Holy Spirit continued to inspire His human author when Isaiah contrasted Egypt and God by asserting that the flesh is hardly equal to the spirit. He said: they were merely men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit (31:3a). This is clearly true, but we human beings have a tough time with this concept. Because of our fallen nature, we tend to value the seen more than the unseen. But Jesus said: The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63).

    In reality, only ADONAI could protect them from their enemies. When the LORD stretches out His hand, the nation who helps will stumble, the nation who is helped will fall; both will perish together (31:3b). If Judah persisted in seeking an alliance with Egypt, both would meet disaster together.

    As in 30:19-33, here Isaiah turned from the condemnation of the false hope in Egypt to the declaration of the true hope in ADONAI. If the LORD were relentless towards sinful Judah, He would also be relentless in the defense of repentant Judah. The motivation to trust always was, and always is, both negative and positive. This announcement of trust before the fact is typical not only of Isaiah, but also the Gospel. God does not wait until we have repented to act mercifully on our behalf (mercy is not getting what we deserve). More accurately, His mercy becomes the incentive for repentance. We are invited to repent because of our attraction to God, rather then trying to avoid Him.

    ADONAI assured the people that His greatness would protect them from the terrifying Assyrian threat. As a lion meets up with a flock of sheep and is unafraid of a number of shepherds, so the LORD was not afraid of the Assyrians. As a lion growls, a great lion over his prey – and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against him, he is not frightened by their shouts or disturbed by their clamor (31:4a). In other words, the Lion of Judah cannot be frightened off by a pack of people shouting and beating their pans. So the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB) will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights (31:4b).

    God is also going to protect Jerusalem like a bird hovering over her nest. Like birds hovering overhead, the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB) will shield Jerusalem; He will shield it and deliver it, He will “pass over” it and will rescue it (31:5). Even though 46 of Jerusalem’s surrounding cities will be destroyed, God would protect the city of David and the Assyrians would fail in their attempt to destroy her.

    Since God would rescue Judah, Isaiah called on the nation to turn back to Him. Isaiah pleaded with them, saying: Return to Him you who have so greatly revolted against, O Israelites (31:6). Eventually, they would throw their idols away (30:22) in favor of the true God. For in that day, every one of you will reject the idols of sliver and gold your sinful hands have made (31:7). In light of Israel’s future national salvation, Judah ought to throw them away immediately. They are called to reject the idols of silver and gold that their sinful hands had made. When both the helplessness of idols and the grace of God are revealed, the idols are powerless. Although they are valuable metals, they are valueless. When they returned from the Babylonian captivity, they had learned the invaluable lesson that idols are an abomination to God. As John Calvin (1509-1564), one of the great pastors during the Protestant Reformation, said, “True conversion does not ask the price.” But the opposite is also true: so long as a person continues to question whether he or she can possibly afford to trust in ADONAI, the cost will always be to high. There is never enough proof for unbelief.

    The last two verses put the seal upon the LORD’s promises. It is God Himself, and no other, that will destroy the Assyrian king and his army. Assyria will fall by a superhuman sword that is not of man; a sword not of morals, will devour them (37:36). It will be Malach ADONAI, the Angel of the LORD or Jesus Christ. They will flee before the sword and their young men will be put to forced labor (31:8). The Assyrian commanders, seeing Judah’s battle standard and their soldiers being slaughtered, would be terrified. Their stronghold will fall because of terror; at the sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic, declares the LORD (31:9a).

    It is ADONAI, not man, that delivers. This truth resurfaces again and again in the Bible. It appears at the conception of Isaac (Genesis 18:10-15, 21:1-7), when all human power was gone. It appears at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14:19-31) and again at Jericho (Joshua 5:13 to 6:27). It is there in the story of Gideon (6:1 to 7:25), and in the rout of the Philistines in Samuel’s day (First Samuel 7:2-17). Jehoshaphat experienced it in his fight with the Edomites (Second Chronicles 20:1-30). This truth is at the heart of Paul’s contrast between the flesh and the spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). When people believe they can save themselves, they, in effect, dethrone God in their lives and doom themselves (Philippians 3:7), for it is only as the King of our lives that He can help us.

    Whose fire is in Zion, whose furnace is in Jerusalem (31:9b)? Ariel means two things, the lion of God and the burning altar-hearth of God. The word is used in the lion of God sense in Second Samuel 23:20, Isaiah 33:7 and here. The word is used in the burning altar-hearth of God sense here in Isaiah 29:2 and Ezekiel 43:15-16. Isaiah will use both figures. God will view Ariel as a burning altar-hearth and He will view Ariel as a lion. The LORD declares, through His prophet Isaiah, that His burning fire is in Zion, and His furnace is in Jerusalem. So in these verses, Isaiah uses both meanings for Ariel; sometimes a lion and sometimes like a burning fire.

    In 1887, just following an evangelistic meeting held by Dwight L. Moody, a young man stood to share his story in an after-service testimony meeting. As he was speaking , it was obvious to everyone there that he knew little about the Bible. His closing lines, however, spoke volumes to all the believers there. He said, “I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do now. But I’m going to trust, and I’m going to obey.” Daniel Towner was so struck by the power of those words that he quickly jotted them down, then delivered them to John Sammis, who developed the lyrics to the famous hymn Trust and Obey. Towner composed the music and the song quickly became a favorite. It remains popular to this day.

Refrain: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,

What a glory He sheds on our way!

While we do His good will, He abides with us still,

And with all who will trust and obey.


Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,

But His smile quickly drives it away;

Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,

Can abide while we trust and obey.


Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,

But our toil He does richly repay;

Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,

But is blessed if we trust and obey.


But we never can prove the delights of His love

Until all on the altar we lay,

For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,

Are for them who will trust and obey.


Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet

Or we’ll walk by His side in the Way (Acts 24:14).

What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;

Never fear, only trust and obey.


    For ADONAI is a sun and a shield; ADONAI bestows favor and honor; He will not withhold anything good from those whose lives are pure. The LORD of heaven’s angelic armies, how happy is anyone who trusts in You (Psalm 84:11-12 CJB)!


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