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Isaiah 31


Help Not in Egypt But in God The Folly of Not Trusting God Against Egypt God Will Protect Jerusalem Against the Egyptian Alliance
31:1-3 31:1-3
  God Will Deliver Jerusalem Against Sennacherib   Against Assyria
31:4-5 31:4-9
(6-9) 31:6-9  

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Chapters 31-32 are a literary unit that deals with the same historical event as 29:15-30:33. Hezekiah attempted to seek an alliance with Egypt to protect themselves from Assyrian aggression, but in 701 b.c. Senacherib invaded Judah and destroyed forty-six walled cities, though Jerusalem itself was spared.

B. The Anchor Bible has an interesting chart that shows the characteristic prophetic swings between judgment and hope (p. 426).


Threat  Assurance
31:4-5, 8-9


1Woe 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 do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!
2Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster
And does not retract His words,
But will arise against the house of evildoers
And against the help of the workers of iniquity.
3Now the Egyptians are men and not God,
And their horses are flesh and not spirit;
So the Lord will stretch out His hand,
And he who helps will stumble
And he who is helped will fall,
And all of them will come to an end together.

31:1 "Woe" This is the fifth in a series of "woes" that began in 28:1; 29:1,15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1. The term introduces the poetic meter of a funeral lament. See note at 5:8.

"who go down to Egypt for help" The people of God were attempting to trust (BDB 105, KB 120, see Special Topic at 22:23) in political alliances instead of the power, presence, and promises of YHWH for their help (cf. chapters 28-34).

"horses. . .chariots. . .horsemen" The Assyrians were known for their very large cavalry. Egypt was known for her very large contingent of chariots. Judah was afraid of the Assyrians and was trusting in Egypt instead of God. Humans of all ages must be careful of trusting in the current level of technology or numerical superiority instead of the God of creation and mercy.

"chariots" Egypt exported chariots to all the surrounding countries (cf. I Kgs. 10:29), but they could be effective only on flat land, not the hill country of Judah.

"the Holy One of Israel. . .the Lord" These two terms apply to the Covenant God (cf. 1:4). The first refers to His nature as righteous, yet the God that calls sinful humans to be His children.

The second term is the Covenant name for God, "YHWH" (cf. Exod. 3:14). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:1.

▣ "look. . .seek" Both of these verbs are negated Qal perfects, which denotes a settled condition.

1. look (lit. "to gaze at intently"), BDB 1043, KB 1609, cf. 17:7,8

2. seek, BDB 205, KB 233, cf. 9:13; 55:6; 58:2; 65:10

These verbs denote an intense personal element (cf. Dan. 9:13).

31:2 "He also is wise and will bring disaster" The NET Bible sees this as a sarcastic comment about Judah's advisors who are seeking help from Egypt. However, the whole verse, not just the last two lines, speaks of YHWH.

"And does not retract His words" When God speaks, His words can be depended on (cf. Isa. 45:23; 55:11; Jer. 44:29).

▣ "will arise" This verb (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal perfect) is used anthropomorphically of YHWH rising from His throne to do battle on behalf of His people (cf. 14:22) or against His people (cf. Amos 7:9). See Special Topic: Anthropomorphic Language Used for God at 6:1.

"the house of evil-doers. . .the workers of iniquity" These two phrases refer to Judah (i.e., "he who is helped," v. 3e) and her political alliances (i.e., Egypt, "he who helps," v. 3d).

31:3 This is a comparison between the frailty of human beings and the eternality of God (El). Specifically here it may refer to Exod. 14:26-31a.

This verse also clearly contrasts God (El) with flesh. God is "spirit" (cf. John 4:24). He can take a human form (theophany), but He is spirit and dwells throughout his creation (cf. I Kgs. 8:27; Jer. 23:24). He chooses to fellowship with humble, repentant believers (i.e., Isa. 66:1-2).

"the Lord will stretch out His hand" This is an anthropomorphic idiom of God's actions. See Special Topic at 6:1.

▣ "all of them will come to an end together" This verb (BDB 477, KB 476, Qal imperfect) denotes a complete destruction and end (cf. 1:28; 16:4; 29:20). What looks powerful and long lasting is not! This is similar to the common proverb about the transitoriness of humans as grass (cf. Isa. 40:6-8; Ps. 90:5-6; 103:15; 104:14; James 1:10-11; I Pet. 1:24).

4For thus says the Lord to me,
"As the lion or the young lion growls over his prey,
Against which a band of shepherds is called out,
And he will not be terrified at their voice nor disturbed at their noise,
So will the Lord of hosts come down to wage war on Mount Zion and on its hill."
5Like flying birds so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem.
He will protect and deliver it;
He will pass over and rescue it.

31:4 "the lion" This metaphor seems to describe God as powerful and tenacious over His own special place (i.e., temple). If so, it is a reversal of the first strophe (31:1-3).

▣ "the Lord of hosts come down" This verb (BDB 432, KB 434, Qal imperfect) means "to come down," "to go down," "to descend." It is used several times of YHWH leaving His abode in the heavens and coming to earth

1. to see and respond to the actions of humans, Gen. 11:5,7; 18:21

2. to reveal Himself to humans, Exod. 3:8; 19:11,18,20; Num. 11:17,25; 12:5 (two special places where His attributes are listed are Exod. 34:5,6-7; Neh. 9:13,17)

3. to characterize YWWH in several psalms, II Sam. 22:10; Ps. 18:9; 144:5

4. for judgment, Micah 1:3 (like #1)

This verb is spacial (i.e., down), but it is metaphorical when referring to the relationship between heaven and earth (cf. Acts 1:2,9).

Judah went down to Egypt (v. 1, same verb), YHWH comes down to defend Jerusalem even amidst their unbelief. Isaiah uniquely asserts the inviolability of Jerusalem! However, later prophets do not share his optimism of Judah's ability to repent and trust in YHWH (cf. Jer. 26:18; Micah 3:11-12; 5:5b-6,7-8).

31:5 "Like flying birds" This is a reference to God as tender and loyal like a mother bird ("will protect," BDB 170, KB 199, both Hiphil imperfect and Qal infinitive absolute of the same root to denote intensity). Often times in the Bible, God is described by feminine metaphors (cf. Gen. 1:2; Deut. 32:11; Isa. 40:31; Hos. 11:4; Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:24).

Notice the things YHWH will do for His people in v. 5.

1. will protect, BDB 170, KB 199 Hiphil imperfect

2. will protect, BDB 170, KB 199, Qal infinitive absolute

3. will deliver, BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil perfect

4. will pass over, BDB 820, KB 947, Qal infinitive absolute

5. will rescue, BDB 572, KB 589, Hiphil perfect


▣ "He will pass over" This verb (BDB 820, KB 947, Qal infinitive absolute, cf. Exod. 12:11-27) refers to God's protection against human forces. There seems to be an allusion to the Passover event of the Book of Exodus where God, against all human odds, protected and delivered His people.

6Return to Him from whom you have deeply defected, O sons of Israel. 7For in that day every man will cast away his silver idols and his gold idols, which your sinful hands have made for you as a sin.
8And the Assyrian will fall by a sword not of man,
And a sword not of man will devour him.
So he will not escape the sword,
And his young men will become forced laborers.
9"His rock will pass away because of panic,
And his princes will be terrified at the standard,"
Declares the Lord, whose fire is in Zion and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.

31:6 "Return to Him" The verb is shub (BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative), which basically means "to turn back" or "return." It can be used of

1. turning from God, Num. 14:43; Josh. 22:16,18,23,29; Jdgs. 2:19; 8:33; I Sam. 15:11; I Kgs. 9:6; Jer. 3:19; 8:4

2. turning to God, I Kgs. 8:33,48; II Chr. 15:4; 30:9; Ps. 51:13; 116:7; Isa. 6:10; 10:21,22; 31:6; Jer. 3:7,12,14,22; 4:1; 5:3; Hos. 3:5; 5:4; 6:1; 7:10,16; 11:5; 14:1,2; Amos 4:6,8,9,10,11 (notice esp. Jeremiah 7 and Amos 4)

3. YHWH initially telling Isaiah that Judah would not/could not repent (cf. 6:10), but not for the first time in the book He calls on them to return to Him.

Repentance is not so much an emotion as it is an attitude toward God. It is a reorientation of life from self to Him. It denotes a willingness to change and be changed. It is not the complete cessation of sin, but a daily cessation of known rebellion! It is a reversal of the self-centered results of the Fall of Genesis 3. It denotes that the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27), though damaged, has been restored! Fellowship with God by fallen humans is possible again.

Repentance in the OT primarily means "change of action," while "repentance" in the NT primarily means "change of mind." Both of these are necessary for true biblical repentance. It is also necessary to realize that repentance is both an initial act and an ongoing process. The initial act can be seen in Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16 and 19; 20:21, while the ongoing process can be seen in I John 1:9; Revelation 2 and 3. Repentance is not an option (cf. Luke 13:3)! See SPECIAL TOPIC: REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT in the OT at 6:10.

"deeply defected" This speaks of Judah's rebellion against YHWH.

1. "deeply," BDB 770, KB 847, Hiphil perfect, this word was used in 30:33 to describe the funeral pyre of the King of Assyria. It can also describe sin, as it does here and in Hosea 5:2; 9:9. It may specifically refer to Judah's "secret" plan to seek help from Egypt (cf. 29:15).

2. "defected," BDB 694, here refers to apostasy, cf. Deut. 13:5; Isa. 1:5; 31:6; Jer. 28:16; 29:32


"O sons of Israel" In the Bible the term "Israel" can refer to several things: (l) it can refer to the Patriarch Jacob and his children, (2) it can refer to the Northern Ten Tribes-also called Samaria and Ephraim, or (3) it can refer to Judah. In this context it is #3.

31:7 Israel had become eclectic in her faith and tried to incorporate the Canaanite fertility rites (see Special Topic at 17:8) along with her worship of YHWH. This is always a disaster. YHWH will be God or He will be nothing at all.

31:8 "the Assyrian will fall" Assyria was the tool which God used to judge the Northern Ten Tribes (cf. Isa. 10:5), but God would deal justly with the godless nation of Assyria also (cf. 10:12; 14:15; 30:31-33; 37:7). Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell to Neo-Babylon in 612 b.c.

▣ "a sword not of man will devour him" Read chapters 36 and 37 of Isaiah, which describe the invasion and siege of Jerusalem under Sennacherib. Notice God's miraculous deliverance (not by human sword) in 37:36.

▣ "forced laborers" Defeated armies who survived the battle could be

1. conscripted as mercenaries into the victorious army

2. sold as slaves

3. turned into forced laborers to serve the military

All other inhabitants were forced into slavery (cf. Lam. 1:1). Slavery was common in the ancient world for debtors or those who were defeated.

31:9 "his rock. . .his princes" These are in a Hebrew parallel relationship, therefore, the term "rock" refers to the king of Assyria (or one of his gods, cf. Deut. 32:31,37) and his military commanders (i.e., "princes") terrified at YHWH's "standard" (BDB 651, cf. Isa. 13:2; Jer. 50:2; 51:12,27) over Jerusalem.

"whose fire. . .furnace" This refers, not to the fire of judgment (although an allusion to 30:33 is possible), nor the fire of illumination, but to God's home fireplace, hearth (cf. "Ariel," 29:1,2,7, which referred to Jerusalem).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How does chapter 31 relate to our modern situation of the arms race?

2. Does superior technology and superior force assure the protection of a nation?

3. Why would YHWH be described in feminine terms?

4. Describe repentance. Is it a once-and-for-all act or ongoing experience? Is it basically an attitude or is it a change of actions?

5. Describe how Assyria was defeated by non-human means.


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