1 “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;
2 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!
3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame,
and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.
4 For though his officials are at Zoan
and his envoys reach Hanes,
5 everyone comes to shame
through a people that cannot profit them,
that brings neither help nor profit,
but shame and disgrace.”
6 An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb.
Through a land of trouble and anguish,
from where come the lioness and the lion,
the adder and the flying fiery serpent,
they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys,
and their treasures on the humps of camels,
to a people that cannot profit them.
7 Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;
therefore I have called her
“Rahab who sits still.” – Isaiah 30:1-7 ESV
As God’s chosen people, the nation of Judah was to have one source of protection and provision: God. He had promised to meet all their needs and to protect them from all their enemies. Long before they ever arrived in the land of Canaan, God had told them:
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:
Your towns and your fields
will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
you will be blessed.
“The Lord will conquer your enemies when they attack you. They will attack you from one direction, but they will scatter from you in seven!
“The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-8 NLT
But this promise was conditional. It required that the people of God obey His commands and worship Him alone. And years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, God had reminded them what would happen if they failed to remain faithful to Him.
“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations.” – 1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT
And God made it perfectly clear to Solomon and the people of Israel that the fall of Jerusalem would be their own fault – for having abandoned Yahweh as their God, and their sole source of provision and protection.
“And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’
“And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:8-9 NLT
So, at this point in the book of Isaiah, we are looking at a time, long after Solomon had dedicated the temple when the nation of Israel had been divided in two because of Solomon’s failure to remain faithful to God. The southern kingdom of Judah was under intense pressure from foreign enemies and was turning its gaze to Egypt as a potential source of help and hope. They were making peace overtures to the very nation from which God had freed them from slavery generations earlier.
But God calls them exactly what they were: Stubborn children, and He used a word typically referring to dumb, untrainable oxen. It carries with it the idea of rebellion. Like an ox that refused to get into the yoke and plow, the people of Judah were refusing to do what God had called them to do. They consistently resisted His efforts to teach and train them. So, God warns them:
“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
thus piling up your sins.” – Isaiah 30:1 NLT
God had not told them to turn to Egypt. He had not given them permission to make an alliance with Pharaoh. And their efforts to do so would prove to be more fuel on the fire of His judgment against them.
“For without consulting me,
you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:2 NLT
This is the crux of the matter. They were refusing to seek God’s counsel, and they were rejecting God’s promise of provision and protection. Rather than trust God, they were putting all their hope in Pharaoh. But they were going to find him to be a lousy replacement for God.
“But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.” – Isaiah 30:3 NLT
Their plans were not going to produce the results for which they were hoping. Rather than help, they would experience humiliation. In the place of deliverance, they would find disgrace. The nation of Egypt was powerful, and its borders stretched from Zoan in the north to Hanes in the south. But Pharaoh and his mighty army would prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. And God destroys any lingering hopes the people of Judah might have that their plans will succeed.
“all who trust in him will be ashamed.
He will not help you.
Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:5 NLT
With their failure well established, Isaiah now provides the people of Judah with a visual description of the Judean emissaries’ trip to Egypt to deliver payment for their assistance. The route described is remarkably similar to the one that the people of Israel took when they left Egypt under Moses’ leadership centuries earlier. In order to escape detection by the Assyrians, the caravan would wind its way south, through the Negeb, “a land of trouble and anguish” (Isaiah 30:6 ESV).
But this time, they would not be accompanied by God or enjoy His protection. They would encounter an unforgiving desert, occupied by lions and venomous snakes. Their donkeys and camels would be weighed down with riches and treasures intended as payment for Pharaoh’s help. They would be paying dearly for their stubborn refusal to obey God. Their rebellion against Him would end up costing them. And the worst part was the cost to benefit ratio was going to be minimal.
“All this, and Egypt will give you nothing in return.
Egypt’s promises are worthless!” – Isaiah 30:6-7 NLT
The imagery here is powerful. The people of Judah were going backwards. They are pictured as returning to the very place from which God had delivered them. They were regressing rather than progressing. Their former deliverance from Egypt was not taking the form of a vain hope of deliverance by Egypt.
And God sarcastically refers to Egypt, using a fairly cryptic monicker: “Rahab who sits still” (Isaiah 30:7 ESV). There is much debate as to what this phrase actually means and how it should be translated. The name “Rahab” is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to Egypt (Psalm 87:4). But the Hebrew word rahav is also used in the Old Testament to refer to a mythical sea monster, the symbol of chaos. That’s why the New Living Translation reads “the Harmless Dragon.” Egypt is described as being shebeth, idle or inactive. Rather than stepping into the situation and providing Judah with assistance, the nation of Egypt is shown to be completely still, providing no help whatsoever. This entire transaction between Judah and Egypt will prove to be an expensive boondoggle that produces none of their hoped-for results.
What a sad and sobering lesson. And yet, as 21st-Century Christians, we can fail to learn anything from this dark moment in the life of the nation of Judah. It is so easy to miss the similarities between our lives and theirs. While we may not face invasion from a foreign power, we are under spiritual attack each and every day of our lives. The apostle Paul would have us remember:
We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT
Notice what Paul says. We are to use God’s weapons, not worldly ones. And our battle is against human reasoning and false arguments. Because we are under the constant temptation to use human wisdom to solve spiritual problems. We too easily find ourselves listening to false arguments that prompt us to turn to something or someone other than God. But we are to take those thoughts captive and teach them to obey what Christ would have us do. Turning to Egypt rather than God will never produce the desired results. Placing our faith in something other than God will always prove empty and futile. But God is always faithful. He is there when we call. He responds when we cry out. He not only wants to rescue us, He has the power to do so.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.