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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 31

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 31 The Fifth Woe On Those Who Trust To Egypt And To The Strength Of Their Horse Propelled Armaments. Rather They Must Trust In Yahweh Who Will Fight For Them.

This chapter is a chapter of contrast. On the one hand are those who fatally trust in Egypt because of their horses and chariots, And on the other the call goes out to trust in Yahweh Who will deliver without needing either, for He will hover over Jerusalem as He did at the Exodus and will smite their enemy with His voice.


Verses 1-3

They Must Trust In Yahweh and Not In The Horses of Egypt (Isaiah 31:1-3).

The Assyrians had powerful chariotry and horsemen, and in order to combat them many felt that their only hope was in Egypt, famous for its horses. But Yahweh here points out that the Egyptians are but men, and their horses are but flesh. Where they should be looking is to the One Who can act by His voice and by His Spirit.

Analysis.

a Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and are depending on horses; and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horses because they are very strong (Isaiah 31:1 a).

b But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor do they seek Yahweh (Isaiah 31:1 b).

c Yet He also is strong, and will bring evil, and will not call back His words (Isaiah 31:2 a).

c But will arise against the house of the evil-doers, and against the help of those who work iniquity (Isaiah 31:2 b).

b Now the Egyptians are men and not God, and their horses flesh and not spirit (Isaiah 31:3 a).

a And when Yahweh stretches out his hand, both he who helps will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all fail together (Isaiah 31:3 b).

In ‘a’ he declares woe on those who seek help elsewhere than in Yahweh, and who depend on Egypt’s strong horses and in the parallel those who help will stumble when Yahweh stretches out His hand. In ‘b’ they fail to look to the Holy One of Israel or seek Yahweh, and in the parallel are reminded that the Egyptians are not God but men, and that their horses are ordinary horses, not ‘spirit’. Thus how foolish to look to them rather than to the Spirit of God. and His heavenly power. In ‘c’ Yahweh also is strong, (stronger than the Egyptian horses, see Isaiah 31:1), and He can and will bring evil (what is looked on by the enemy as evil) and in the parallel will arise against the house of evildoers and against the assistance given by those who work iniquity.

Isaiah 31:1-2

‘Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,

And are depending on horses;

And trust in chariots because they are many,

And in horses because they are very strong.

But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel,

Nor do they seek Yahweh.

Yet he also is strong, and will bring misfortune,

And will not call back his words,

But will arise against the house of the evil-doers,

And against the help of those who work iniquity.’

A further woe is declared on Judah. The men of Judah had clearly been impressed by the Egyptian horse weaponry, both their many chariots and their fine cavalry. This had given them renewed confidence in an Egyptian victory, something which they seemingly drew to Isaiah’s attention. They had become horse-dependent (continuous tense) rather than Yahweh dependent. They had stopped looking to Him.

But Isaiah points out that Yahweh too is strong, far mightier than the Egyptian horses. And that they should beware, for when He purposes misfortune He will not call back His words. Indeed He is the Holy One of Israel, therefore He must go against the house of evildoers (Egypt), and those (the Egyptians) who are the help of those who work iniquity (the people of Judah and especially the Egyptian party in Judah). Note again the stress on the fact that Yahweh so acts because those against whom He acted were sinful and wicked. His dislike of Egypt and the Egyptian party in Judah was not arbitrary. It lay in their sinfulness.

Isaiah 31:3

‘Now the Egyptians are men and not God,

And their horses flesh and not spirit.

And when Yahweh stretches out his hand,

Both he who helps will stumble,

And he who is helped will fall,

And they will all fail together.’

Indeed Isaiah reminds them that, in contrast to Yahweh, Who is God and of the spiritual realm, the Egyptians are but men and their horses but flesh. Thus when God chooses to act to demonstrate their human frailty He will simply stretch out His hand and both helper (the Egyptians) and the helped (Judah) will stumble and fall. Both will fail together. For it is God Who is against them. This might suggest that there was a contingent of men from Judah assisting Egypt when they were defeated by the Assyrians at Eltekeh, as there almost certainly would be. Pharaoh would not expect to march through Judah towards Eltekeh without gathering support along the way.

The whole tenor of the passage is of the folly of trusting in men when they could trust in God and the certain promises that He has given them, the folly of trusting in human strength rather than in divine aid.


Verses 4-9

In The End It Is Yahweh Who Will Deliver His People (Isaiah 31:4-9).

Isaiah points out that God is not afraid of the rantings of Assyria. Rather He will come to act on behalf of His people as He did at the Exodus when the angel of death slew the Egyptian firstborn. For like a giant bird He is hovering over His people to protect them, and they will therefore be delivered, but not by a human agency.

Analysis.

a For thus says Yahweh to me, “Just as when the lion growls, and the mature young lion over his prey, if a large group of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be dismayed at their voice, nor abase himself because of their noise (Isaiah 31:4 a)

b So will Yahweh of hosts come down to fight, on Mount Zion and on its hill. As birds flying, so will Yahweh of hosts protect Jerusalem. He will protect and deliver it, He will pass over and preserve it (Isaiah 31:4-5).

c Turn to him from whom you have deeply revolted, O children of Israel (Isaiah 31:6).

c For in that day they will cast away every man his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made for you for a sin (Isaiah 31:7).

b Then will the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of man, and the sword not of men will devour him. And he will flee from the sword, and his young men will become tributary (Isaiah 31:8).

a And his rock will pass away by reason of terror, and his princes will be dismayed at the banner, Says Yahweh, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem (Isaiah 31:9).

.

In ‘a’ Yahweh is like a powerful lion who is not frightened of a group of shepherds, however large, He will not be dismayed or afraid, while in the parallel Assyria will be dismayed and afraid, because of Yahweh, Whose fire and furnace is in Jerusalem. In ‘b’ Yahweh will come down to fight for His people, and in the parallel the Assyrians will flee to their own land, smitten by a sword which is not human. In ‘c’ Israel is to turn to Yahweh from whom they have so deeply revolted, and in the parallel are to cast away the idols which they themselves have made, which they have preferred to Yahweh.

Isaiah 31:4

‘For thus says Yahweh to me,

“Just as when the lion growls,

And the mature young lion over his prey,

If a large group of shepherds is called forth against him,

He will not be dismayed at their voice,

Nor abase himself because of their noise.

So will Yahweh of hosts come down to fight,

On Mount Zion and on its hill.’

However, in contrast to the Egyptians who will flee before Assyria God will rise like a young strong lion on behalf of His people, undismayed by the size and boasting of the enemy. Note the stress on the noise they make and compare the speeches of the Assyrian leaders (36-37), they are like shepherds making a loud noise to frighten the lion off, but they will not succeed, for the Lion is Yahweh. And Yahweh will be fighting on Mount Zion. This is not so much Jerusalem that is in mind as Mount Zion His earthly dwellingplace with its heavenly connections, and all that it means and signifies. That is where He will take His stance as He protects Jerusalem, and is one reason why He does so.

Isaiah 31:5

‘As birds flying,

So will Yahweh of hosts protect Jerusalem,

He will protect and deliver it,

He will pass over and preserve it.’

The picture now moves on to that of birds fiercely aroused to protect their nest, taking off from Mount Zion and protecting Jerusalem. The king of Assyria had boasted that he collected the riches of the nations like an egg collector collected eggs, without the helpless parent birds protesting (Isaiah 10:14), but now he will discover that there is one Parent Bird Who will protect His young, and will succeed in delivering them. He will not allow Jerusalem to be robbed of its eggs. He will ‘pass over’ Jerusalem and preserve it. The idea behind ‘pass over’ is unquestionably intended to remind the reader of the previous time when God ‘passed over’ His people in deliverance and Egypt was left to bewail its dead (Exodus 12). Now it will be Assyria’s turn to bewail their dead because of their treatment of His people. The twin double verbs, ‘protect and deliver’, ‘pass over and preserve’, making four in all, stress that what will happen is a double twofold witness to God’s delivering power.

Isaiah 31:6-8

‘Turn to him from whom you have deeply revolted, O children of Israel, for in that day they will cast away every man his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made for you for a sin, then will the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of man, and the sword not of men will devour him. And he will flee from the sword, and his young men will become tributary.’

Their deliverance must, however, go in parallel with their repentance and turning. When His people look to him and cast from them their idols of silver and gold which they have made for themselves so that they can sin with them (note the sarcasm, they have made them with their own hands for themselves; and the description of what idolatry achieves, it makes them sin), then He will reach out and smite the Assyrians without the aid of a human sword. The sword He will use will be His own strong sword (Isaiah 27:1), and it will devour the Assyrian. And it will not stop there. For it will also make the Assyrian flee and in the end result in their young men becoming enslaved to another nation. In the end the empire of Assyria will be overthrown by the sword of Yahweh.

Note how Judah are called ‘the children of Israel’. As far as the prophets were concerned there was only one Israel, the combined tribes. (Which is why it is sometimes difficult to know which is in mind when the term ‘Israel’ is used).

‘In that day.’ Here this means in the day when they cease to trust Egypt and turn to trust in Him (Isaiah 37:1-4). It must always be interpreted in context. It means basically in a day when God brings about His particular purpose.

Isaiah 31:9

‘And his rock will pass away by reason of terror,

And his princes will be dismayed at the banner,

Says Yahweh, whose fire is in Zion,

And his furnace in Jerusalem.’

‘His rock’ is the rock ‘of the Assyrian’, that is, their king. Unlike the strong rock of Judah (Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 30:29), their rock will be terrified and depart for Assyria. While Yahweh will ‘pass over’, their rock will ‘pass away’. As will their princes. Both will be dismayed at the One Who is Israel’s banner (compare Isaiah 11:10; Exodus 17:15 - ‘Yahweh my Banner’). Or it may well be that the Davidic banner is in mind (Isaiah 11:10), with Hezekiah seen as Yahweh’s representative and as a predecessor to the coming king, for we move immediately on to a description of that coming king (Isaiah 32:1-2).

‘Says Yahweh, Whose fire is in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem.’ The Assyrians had approached Jerusalem with confidence. It was but another city to fall before their onslaught. What they did not appreciate was that the God of Sinai was there. The fire of Yahweh was in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem. He was the fire that was to both destroy them and purify Israel (Isaiah 10:16-19; Isaiah 4:4), the furnace prepared for their king (Isaiah 30:33). He will totally burn up both them and him, and purify His people.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 31:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-31.html. 2013.

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