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Isaiah 31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they don’t look to the Holy One of Israel, and they don’t seek Yahweh!- The Jews of Isaiah’s day turned to political alliances with the Egyptians to save them from the threat of Assyria. Isaiah insisted that "the Egyptians are men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit” (Is. 31:3). Egypt and Assyria are likened to mere tiny insects, a fly and a bee. Yet Judah were doing what was humanly sensible and smart. To trust in politics, in what seems the usual human response to an issue rather than trust in God, is in fact something which breaks God’s heart. The horses and chariots they ought to have trusted in were the Angel cherubim. This is the lesson of Ezekiel's usage of the cherubim visions. The grace and eagerness of God to work with men comes through, however; in that although just a minority trusted in Him, He used one Angel to smite the Assyrian army. Perhaps the impression is left that if the entire cherubim had been involved, not only would the Assyrians have been destroyed but the Kingdom established as discussed on Is. 30:28-30.   

Isaiah 31:2 Yet He also is wise, and will bring disaster-
The idea was that to trust in Egypt was the "wise" thing to do, the secular choice of wisdom. We face the same choice. Yet we are to be fools for Christ's sake. And God's wisdom was to "bring disaster" upon those who trusted in Egypt. But how it worked out was that the faith of the minority led to the Assyrians being destroyed, despite the majority trusting in Egypt. Were they therefore not punished or had "disaster"? They appear to have got away with it. But the judgment of the last day, to which they will be resurrected, will finally resolve all these issues.


And will not call back His words- The destruction of the Assyrian army could be read as God indeed relenting. He speaks His word of judgment, but in the gap between the statement and the execution of it there is the possibility of repentance and intercession which can call back those words; see on Jer. 18:8-10. God's calling back is the same word used in the frequent appeals for Judah to "turn away" from their sin (Is. 1:16). We could conclude that they didn't, and so God didn't turn back His words; and they will be punished at the last day. Or, we can marvel that God did call back His words for the sake of a minority repenting and interceding, just as He did regarding the destiny of Israel because of Moses' intercession.

But will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the helpers of those who work iniquity- God would "arise against" Assyria and Babylon to destroy them (s.w. Is. 14:22). But the context here is of His 'arising against' the evildoers amongst His people (s.w. Jer. 44:29). For they were a family of evildoers (s.w. Is. 1:4; 9:17) just as Babylon were (s.w. Is. 14:20). His arising in judgment was therefore to be against Babylon and the sinners within Judah at the same time; they were to be "condemned with the world" as the unworthy of the new Israel will be at the last day (1 Cor. 11:32); hence the appeal to come out of Babylon so as not to share her condemnation. But when the Assyrian army was destroyed, the sinful "house of the evildoers" in Judah wasn't destroyed. Perhaps judgment was averted for the sake of the repentance of the minority, just as we who are sinners are counted righteous thanks to the work of the Lord Jesus, the one man. But it could be they are raised to condemnation at the last day, and that condemnation will be articulated at the same time as Babylon is destroyed. Likewise the 'workers of iniquity' is a phrase used of the Jews at this time (Mic. 2:1 cp. Hos. 6:8). Their "helpers" could refer to the Egyptians whose help they sought (s.w. Is. 20:6; 31:1; Jer. 37:7), just as Ahaz had sought "help" (s.w.) from the Assyrians earlier (2 Chron. 28:21). Or we can read this as meaning that those who were "helpers" of the leading sinners in Judah would be likewise punished. And here again we see a principle of contemporary relevance; for we can so easily think we are not the "workers of iniquity", but by our support of them we become vicarious sinners. And even our silence can also be 'helping' them. This concern is raised again in :3.

Isaiah 31:3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit-
As explained on :1, the contrast was with the Angel cherubim.   

When Yahweh stretches out His hand- The simple fact we are created by God means that we are responsible to God in some sense, and therefore liable to His judgment. The stretched out hand of God is used as a figure both for His judgment of man (Is. 31:3) and also for His creation of man (Is. 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 51:13). The knowledge that we are created by Him makes us responsible to His judgment, and we have to look at our bodies, our lives which He has created … and act accordingly.

Both he who helps shall stumble, and he who is helped shall fall, and they all shall be consumed together- As explained on :2, vicarious 'helping' of sinners is judged the same as the high profile sinners themselves. But we can read "he who helps" as referring to the Egyptians (:1 s.w.; Is. 20:6; Jer. 37:7). The idea is that the Egyptians would be destroyed together with the Jews who trusted in them. But this didn't happen at Isaiah's time. The Assyrians were destroyed by God, and neither Judah nor Egypt fell together. And the Assyrians then left Egypt and Judah alone. All these things will come to full term in the last days, when the latter day Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and impenitent Judah will be destroyed together, apart from a small repentant remnant from all of them. 

Isaiah 31:4 For thus says Yahweh to me, As the lion and the young lion growling over his prey who will not be dismayed if a multitude of shepherds is called together against him, nor will he abase himself for their noise, so Yahweh of Armies will come down to fight on Mount Zion and on its mount-
In the context of condemning trust in Egypt, this would mean that the expected help from Egypt would be like shepherds being "called" (by Judah 'calling' to Egypt for help, Hos. 7:11) but being unable to make enough noise to stop the lions of Assyria / Babylon devouring the prey of Judah. This could only be achieved by the direct intervention of Yahweh's Angelic armies coming down to Zion. This descent of Yahweh to Zion didn't happen in Isaiah's time when the Assyrians were destroyed by an Angel. It will come finally true when the latter day lions surrounding Zion are destroyed by the return of the Lord Jesus to Zion (Obad. 21).     

The LXX again offers a different slant: "For thus said the Lord to me, As a lion would roar, or a lion's whelp over prey which he has taken, and cry over it, until the mountains are filled with his voice, and the animals are awe-struck and tremble at the fierceness of his wrath: so the Lord of hosts shall descend to fight upon the mount Sion, even upon her mountains". This would mean that trust in Egypt for help against the lions of Assyria and Babylon is nothing compared to the help of Yahweh, who would act as a far greater lion, in the person of His Son as the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5; Gen. 49:9) coming down on Zion.

Isaiah 31:5 As birds hovering, so Yahweh of Armies will protect Jerusalem-
The idea is as GNB "Just as a bird hovers over its nest to protect its young". Hovering over would suggest a Passover style deliverance, as would "He will pass over and preserve it", perhaps at the very time of that feast; see on Is. 30:29.

Many of the descriptions of the Lord Jesus Christ in His own parables are taken from Old Testament passages describing the feelings of God towards Israel, showing the truth of this in the first century context when Israel were still God's people. Thus the Lord's description of Himself as a hen wishing to gather the chicks of Jerusalem (Mt. 23:37) is based on Is. 31:5: " As mother-birds flying, so will the Lord defend Jerusalem" Heb.). Yet Lk. 13:8 could suggest that Christ's attitude to Israel was even more patient than that of God Himself; yet because their feelings to Israel are identical, the implication is perhaps that the Son enables and thereby persuades the Father to be even more patient with us than He would naturally be!


He will protect and deliver it, He will pass over and preserve it- This is what God did at the time of the destruction of the Assyrians in Isaiah's time, even though the majority were impenitent of their trust in Egypt. It is this act of pure love and grace which leads to the appeal for repentance in :6. It wasn't that Yahweh would only act if the people all repented, although that indeed was His stated position. Rather He, like a parent, decided to all the same show them grace- in the hope they would be moved to repentance by the goodness and grace shown. Indeed the grace / goodness of God, the gift ahead of time, is intended to elicit repentance (Rom. 2:4)


Isaiah 31:6 Return to Him from whom you have deeply revolted, children of Israel!-
As explained on :5, this appeal to repentance was made after God has promised to save them by grace from the Assyrians. Their deep revolt was in seeking the help and solutions of the world, leaving their supposed faith in Yahweh as merely a cultural, theoretical matter. This, to God, was deep revolt. The plans they carefully devised were this deep revolt- hence LXX "Turn, ye children of Israel, who devise a deep and sinful counsel". The 'deep revolt' is the language of turning to idols (Dt. 13:5; Is. 1:5). And despite the grace of deliverance from Assyria, like their king Hezekiah, Judah continued to revolt and did not respond to grace (s.w. Is. 59:13).

Isaiah 31:7 For in that day everyone shall cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold-
There is a logic to wholehearted, unreserved conversion. Now, we must turn unto [s.w. ‘convert to’] God (:6), “for in that day everyone shall cast away [turn back, ‘convert’] his idols of silver and  his idols of gold”. In the day of final judgment, the rejected will go through the conversion scenario- of throwing away the things of this world, the pomp and the power and the pride of this petty life, and turning unto the things of God. But then, in the finest and acutest tragedy of the whole human experience, it will be all too late. We must all go through the conversion process: either now, or in the rejection experience of the judgment.

The sin which your own hands have made for you- Idols are so often called the works of human hands. And this is the abiding nature of idolatry in our age- to worship works, human achievements.

Isaiah 31:8 The Assyrian will fall by the sword, not of man; and the sword, not of mankind, shall devour him. He will flee from the sword, and his young men will become subject to forced labour-
The LXX has "neither shall he flee from the face of the sword". The idea being that they would not die by the sword; the Angel destroyed them in a moment. And the judgments against them in Is. 30 stress flaming fire and sulphur being used, not literal weapons. Perhaps the allusion is again to the cherubim (see on :1) who were associated in Genesis with the flaming sword.

Isaiah 31:9 His rock will pass away by reason of terror, and his princes will be afraid of the banner, says Yahweh, whose fire is in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem
- Yahweh was to be the rock of Israel. That meant, and means today, that we can have no other rock. The intention was that there would be a literal descent of Yahweh, perhaps through the cherubim, to Zion. The fire from this would destroy the surrounding enemies, as described in Is. 30, and yet that Divine fire would remain in Zion as the sign of God's presence and would form the "fire [which] burns there for sacrifices" (GNB) in the revived temple system. Yahweh's banner or ensign would be placed there, and the repentant remnants of the nations would rally to it, according to previous prophecies in Isaiah. Then the situation of Is. 4:5,6 would have come about. But all that didn't work out at the time because Judah weren't receptive to it. And so these things have been reinterpreted and reapplied; the ensign becomes the pole or cross of the Lord Jesus, to whom all true believers in Him will come, in their acceptance of the Hope of Israel. And these things shall have some literal fulfilment at the Lord's return.