1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the Lord!
2 And yet he is wise and brings disaster;
he does not call back his words,
but will arise against the house of the evildoers
and against the helpers of those who work iniquity.
3 The Egyptians are man, and not God,
and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall,
and they will all perish together.
4 For thus the Lord said to me,
“As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey,
and when a band of shepherds is called out against him
he is not terrified by their shouting
or daunted at their noise,
so the Lord of hosts will come down
to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.
5 Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts
will protect Jerusalem;
he will protect and deliver it;
he will spare and rescue it.”
6 Turn to him from whom people have deeply revolted, O children of Israel. 7 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.
8 “And the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of man;
and a sword, not of man, shall devour him;
and he shall flee from the sword,
and his young men shall be put to forced labor.
9 His rock shall pass away in terror,
and his officers desert the standard in panic,”
declares the Lord, whose fire is in Zion,
and whose furnace is in Jerusalem. – Isaiah 31:1-9 ESV
Where do you turn in times of trouble? When the going gets tough, what are your go-to options for finding relief? The answer probably depends upon the circumstances. There are a lot of times in life when things can take an unexpected turn for the worse. In no time at all, we can find our life circumstances surprisingly altered and our need for a solution suddenly become a top priority. And the list of potential battle zones is a long one. It includes our health, relationships, emotional state, and financial stability. Things can be rocking along quite well and then, suddenly, the bottom drops out. Our world gets rocked by an unexpected and unwanted bit of bad news. And, again, the question is, where do you turn in those times?
For the people of Judah, things were looking dramatically dire. They were facing the threat of joining a long list of regional powers who had fallen at the hands of the Assyrians. It was only a matter of time before the enemy was at the gates of Jerusalem and the collapse of their once-mighty nation became an all-too-real possibility. And, with that potential outcome looming on the horizon, the leaders of Judah had come up with a plan. They had determined to seek aid from the Egyptians. It was going to cost them, but it seemed like the only viable option left open to them. Or was it?
Throughout this book, Isaiah has gone out of his way to communicate to the people of Judah that they had another option, and a much better one at that. They could repent. They could humble themselves before God and ask for His forgiveness. After all, everything they faced was coming through His sovereign hands and was intended to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But they could avoid the coming destruction if they would only turn back to God. In fact, He had told them:
“Only in returning to me
and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15 NLT
But, so far, they had refused God’s gracious offer. So now, Isaiah tells them what will happen to them because they chose door number two over door number one. In selecting Egypt as their savior of choice, they were making a huge mistake. It wasn’t that Egypt was a bad choice, it was that it was the wrong choice.
What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help,
trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers
and depending on the strength of human armies
instead of looking to the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 31:1 NLT
The problem was that Egypt, rather than being a possible God-appointed option, had become an option other than God. Seeking aid from Egypt was not necessarily a sin. It was that they were seeking aid from Egypt without seeking input from God. The leaders of Judah were circumventing the Almighty because they seemed to know that His help was going to require that they obey His commands. His rescue was going to demand their repentance. And they would rather grovel before Egypt, than humble themselves before God.
Just to stress the point that their choice of Egypt as a potential source of aid was not the root of their problem, consider the story of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, found in the gospel of Matthew. After the visit of the wise men, Joseph received a dream from God, instructing Him to take his wife and child to Egypt.
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” – Matthew 2:13 NLT
In this case, Egypt was a good choice because it was the God-ordained choice. Joseph and his young family found refuge from their enemies because they relied upon the wisdom and will of God.
But Judah was guilty of making Egypt a substitute for God, not a possible solution from Him. They were relying on human solutions to what was a spiritual problem. Rather than trusting in God, they were putting all their hope in Egypt’s vast military might. But even King David had known that human resources were insufficient replacements for God.
Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Those nations will fall down and collapse,
but we will rise up and stand firm. – Psalm 20:7-8 NLT
And another psalmist echoes David’s sentiments.
You are my King and my God.
You command victories for Israel.
Only by your power can we push back our enemies;
only in your name can we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow;
I do not count on my sword to save me.
You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies;
you disgrace those who hate us. – Psalm 44:4-7 NLT
And Isaiah lays out the root of the problem:
For these Egyptians are mere humans, not God!
Their horses are puny flesh, not mighty spirits! – Isaiah 31:3 NLT
They are not God. And they were not intended to act as stand-ins for God. That is the issue here. The leaders of Judah weren’t seeking solutions from God, they were seeking options other than God. But our God-replacements always fall short. They can’t deliver what we demand from them. They are incapable of living up to God’s standard. And yet, despite their abysmal track record, we turn to them time and time again.
And the amazing this is how patient God is with us as we continue to seek help from our pseudo-saviors. He was the same way with the people of Judah. He even told them that, in spite of their stubborn rebellion and refusal to repent, He would continue to protect them.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will hover over Jerusalem
and protect it like a bird protecting its nest.
He will defend and save the city;
he will pass over it and rescue it. – Isaiah 31:5 NLT
We know from the book of 2 Kings, that King Sennacherib eventually besieged Jerusalem, but was miraculously defeated by the hand of God.
That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. – 2 Kings 19:35-36 NLT
God did what the Egyptians could never have done. He defeated the enemy of Israel, without any aid from a single human being. In a night, 185,000 of the enemy were killed, without a sword being drawn, an arrow shot, or a spear thrown. It was all the work of God.
But at this point in his message to the people of Judah, Isaiah predicts another victory over the Assyrians that is markedly different from the one over Sennacherib. In this case, Isaiah is talking about something that will take place in the future, when God not only gives the people of Judah victory over their enemies but restores their hearts to Himself.
“I know the glorious day will come when each of you will throw away the gold idols and silver images your sinful hands have made.” – Isaiah 31:7 NLT
On this future occasion, God will do for the people of Judah what they could never have done for themselves. He will accomplish for them things the Egyptians could never have done. First of all, He will dramatically alter their hearts, transforming them from a rebellious and idolatrous nations to a faithful remnant who worships Him alone. On top of that, He will destroy their enemies in a way that no other nation on earth could do.
“The Assyrians will be destroyed,
but not by the swords of men.
The sword of God will strike them,
and they will panic and flee.
The strong young Assyrians
will be taken away as captives.
Even the strongest will quake with terror,
and princes will flee when they see your battle flags,”
says the Lord, whose fire burns in Zion,
whose flame blazes from Jerusalem. – Isaiah 31:8-9 NLT
Isaiah describes a victory like nothing the people of Judah had ever seen before. It will be a decisive victory that culminates the end of the age. And because God is going to accomplish this in time, Isaiah pleads with the people of Judah to repent and return to Him now.
Though you are such wicked rebels, my people, come and return to the Lord. – Isaiah 31:6 NLT
He is a great God. He is a reliable God. There is no reason to trust in anything other than Him. No matter what we are facing, our God is sufficient to handle any and all circumstances. He wants us to trust Him. He desires that we turn to Him.
Come and return to the Lord!
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.