We have been working on a huge section of Isaiah that began at 13:1, namely, that God is the master of the nations. We saw in chapters 13-23 his judgment on the various nations. In chapters 24-27, we saw God’s triumph over the nations.
We are now studying a section made up of chapters 28-33 in which Isaiah is showing the folly of trusting the nations. In this essay we study chapters 30-31, a segment that Oswalt calls, “Woe to Those Who Trust in Egypt.” In chapters 29-30 Isaiah had denounced Judah’s alliance with Egypt in general terms. Now in this segment Isaiah very specifically denounces Judah’s treaty with Egypt. At the time King Hezekiah of Judah was desperate. Sennacherib of Assyria had overcome Judah’s allies and outer fortresses. From Hezekiah’s perspective, the end was near. And the only human help available was Egypt.
However from Isaiah’s perspective the Word of God did not permit reliance on Egypt or anyone else. As you see in verse one of chapter 30, Isaiah believed that to ally with Egypt was adding sin to sin. Judah had sinned when she allied herself with Assyria against Israel and Syria, and now she was adding sin to sin by allying herself with Egypt against Assyria. But even more seriously, Judah had done this without consulting God (v. 2). Her leaders had not just made an alliance with a foreign power; they had turned their backs on God.
Verses 3-5 tell us that their decision would bring humiliation and shame. Even though Egypt had diplomats all over the world she couldn’t deliver the desired protection; she would deliver only shame and disgrace.
Verses 6-7 are interesting. Verse six suggests a more dangerous situation than actually was present along the main coastal road, so some scholars believe that Sennacherib already had cut that road forcing Judah to send the agreed upon riches to Egypt through the dangerous Sinai Peninsula. In any case Egypt would be of no help. The meaning of the expression “Rahab who sits still” is uncertain. Oswalt believes it is a reference to a sea monster of a popular legend of the time. Regardless of the meaning of that particular image, the point is clear. Egypt will do nothing.
Now then, in 30:8-14 Isaiah turns from talking about Judah’s reliance on Egypt to the attitudes that prompted the alliance. What Isaiah was commanded to write in verse eight probably was the basic content of Isaiah’s tirade against Egypt in chapters 28-32, though we can’t be certain. And notice that what he is to write is intended to benefit future generations rather than the hardened generation of Isaiah’s day. Verses 9-11 tell us why. Isaiah’s generation was unwilling to listen to the truth. They did not want “the instruction of the Lord.” Instead they wanted to hear “smooth [NIV pleasant] things.” They were tired of hearing about the “Holy One of Israel.” They wanted counsel that would confirm their decision to rely on Egypt instead of on God.
As you can see in verse 12, Isaiah gave them exactly what they didn’t want, a word from the Holy One of Israel. “This iniquity” of verse 12 contrasts with “this word” in verse 12. And in verses 13-14 Isaiah uses two figures to illustrate the suddenness of the coming collapse, though the process of getting to that point may have taken a long time. It is like a wall that is under strain for a long time and bulges out. But when the collapse comes, it is sudden. Or it is like the sudden smashing of a potter’s vessel. The point is this. The fact that judgment has not yet come does not mean that it will not come. And when it comes it will be devastating.
Verse 15 clearly indicates that salvation comes from “returning,” which refers to repentance, and “rest,” which refers to trust in God’s care. But unfortunately the leaders of Judah had refused to do that. As verse 16 shows, they preferred to rely on swift horses. In that day horses were the glamour weapons of the day. But Isaiah tells them their pursuers will also be swift. Indeed the implication is that they will be swifter. Indeed verse 17 says that many in Judah will flee before a few. They will become like a signal flag to future generations that hopefully will enable them not to make the same mistake.
Now then, verse 18 is a special problem. Many, like the NRSV translators, take it with verses 19 and following, because it has positive content like the following verses. However, because the verse is poetry like the preceding verses rather than prose like the following verses, Oswalt takes it with the preceding verses. Either way it is a transitional verse. Isaiah does turn to the positive and declares that the Lord will be gracious to them as soon as they are ready to receive it. He will bless “those who wait for him,” meaning those who wait for God.
In verses 19-26, Isaiah spells out the blessings of “those who wait for” God. Notice the several blessings listed in verses 19-20. They will weep no more. God will be gracious to them and answer them when they cry out. They also will be given “the bread of adversity” and “the water of affliction,” which is interesting since we normally do not think of adversity and affliction as blessings. Isaiah is saying that sometimes God’s blessings come in the form of chastisement. However, notice that Isaiah declares that the Teacher, God, will be quite near; and in verse 21 he asserts that God will closely guide his people. And as a result they will destroy their idols (v. 22).
In verses 23-26 Isaiah lists further blessings. Ironically, they are the same blessings that they had hoped their idols would provide. God actually can deliver blessings; idols cannot. Notice that agricultural blessings are at the forefront: rain, lots of grain, and good pasture lands. In verses 25-26 Isaiah breaks out in hyperbole. Springs will break out on mountaintops; the moon will become as bright as the sun; and the sun will become seven times hotter. His point is in the last two clauses. The day will come when God will prevail and healing will come.
In verses 27-33 we see that Isaiah follows his promise of Judah’s deliverance with an announcement of Assyria’s destruction. However, it is not the Egyptians who will save Judah, but God himself. In these verses God is depicted as coming from a great distance on the wings of a storm. With lightning, a cloudburst and hail he will destroy his enemies. This will result in rejoicing in Jerusalem. Of course the implication is that Judah did not need Egypt’s help, because Assyria’s destiny is in God’s hands.
In chapter 31 Isaiah repeats the basic message of chapter 30 in shorter form. In verses 1-3 he expresses the folly of dependence on Egypt. The appeal of Egypt was her many horses. But God has something to say about the situation. In verse three Isaiah explains the difference between Egypt and God and the result of trusting in Egypt. Both Judah and Egypt will suffer.
In verses 4-5 two images are used to express God’s protective relationship to Judah. He is like a lion that cannot be scared off by shouting and banging of pans. He also is like a mother bird that protects its nest when a predator is near. The point is that God will protect Jerusalem.
In verses 6-7 we see what Judah must do. She must repent and throw away her idols. The latter will prove the sincerity of the former. Verse eight tells us that the result of Judah’s repentance and idol rejection will be the fall of Assyria. Her army will be devastated by other-than-human mean. And it will flee in panic. This is an obvious prediction of the devastation of Sennacherib’s army during the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC (2 Kings 19:35-36).
The application for us is clear. We are to trust in God, even when things seem hopeless. If we have been relying on something or someone other than God, we must repent and throw away our idols. Our idols may not be as obvious as those of Judah. That is, they may not be little statues or the like that we worship. But money, possessions, and the pursuit of power are just as much idols, if we worship them.