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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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ISAIAH 31

This chapter might be entitled "More of the Same"; but there are some significant differences. Jehovah appears in this chapter as a lion defending his prey (Jerusalem) against false shepherds; and the idols of the people are discarded as, at last, they "trust in God" when the armies of Sennacherib are actually deployed around the city. As Barnes expressed it: "It is evident that this chapter is composed at about the same time as the preceding, and relates to the same subject."F1 The changes just mentioned are sufficient grounds for understanding it as somewhat later than that of preceding chapters. Of course, the critics promptly make a "post eventum" prophecy out of it because they are blinded by unreasonable infidel rules followed in most seminaries. As often observed in this series of studies, "No unbeliever will ever be able properly to interpret the Bible."

Isa. 31:1


 
Verse 1
Woe to them that 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 look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek Jehovah!

Many things should have convinced the Jews of the fallacy of trusting in Egypt for anything. They had, throughout the history of Israel, been their bitterest and most cruel enemies. Also, as Rawlinson noted, "The examples of Samaria, Gaza, and Ashdod might well have taught them the lesson of distrusting Egypt ... But they were infatuated and insisted upon relying on Egypt despite her previous failures to provide aid."F2


 
Verse 2
Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evil-doers, and against the help of them that work iniquity.

He also is wise…
(Isaiah 31:2). This is a sarcastic remark, roughly equivalent to this, Well, perhaps you wise men should remember that God also has some intelligence. Furthermore, God will not have to revise what he says every time the situation changes! This is intense irony. Wisdom is not wholly confined to Hezekiah's evil human counselors!F3

And not call back his words…
(Isaiah 31:2). Such a statement may seem to contradict such passages as that in Jonah where it is stated that God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them and did it not (Jonah 3:10). Clarkson's comment on this was correct when he declared that, There is always a reservation understood, whether stated or not, with regard to every Divine promise and every Divine threat.F4 This was the very thing that kindled the anger of Jonah against the Lord; and many people today don't like it, but Jeremiah spelled it out beautifully in Jer. 18:7-10.


 
Verse 3
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit: and when Jehovah shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall stumble, and he that is helped shall fall, and they all shall be consumed together.

The New Testament use of the word "flesh" for the lower element in human life does not appear in this passage. "It is the weak and mortal in contrast with the immortal and omnipotent,"F5 which is stressed here.

Kelley called this, "One of the truly great texts of the Old Testament."F6 It puts the children of God up against a very simple test. The brute strength and material power of Egypt in contrast with the eternal, spiritual power of the Almighty God. It must be one or the other! To choose material rather than spiritual power is failure.

Just at this point, there seems to have been a change in the strategy of the Assyrians. Hezekiah had evidently expected that Assyria would attack Jerusalem "on the way to" the destruction of Egypt and Ethiopia; but it appears that the attack came "on the way back to Assyria," after the defeat of Egypt in the battle of Eltekeh, a site some forty miles southwest of Jerusalem, but a battle in which Egypt apparently participated. There had to be some good reason why the Jews of Jerusalem discarded their idols; and, although Isaiah's preaching certainly had a lot to do with the change, the disaster at Eltekeh could also have had something to do with it. Barnes commented thus:

"The whole narrative respecting the invasion of Sennacherib would lead to the conclusion that, at first, Hezekiah himself joined in the purpose of seeking that alliance with Egypt, but that afterward he was led to abandon it, and to use all his influence to induce his people to rely upon aid from God."F7


 
Verse 4
For thus saith Jehovah unto me, As the lion and the young lion growling over his prey, if a multitude of shepherds be called forth against him, will not be dismayed at their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so will Jehovah of hosts come down to fight upon mount Zion, and upon the hill thereof.

Many scholars have had trouble in deciding whether this verse is a threat to Jerusalem, or a promise of deliverance. "The words in the Hebrew here always mean to fight against";F8 and, since mount Zion is the object here, a great deal of perplexity has resulted; but Hailey explained it perfectly:

"The shepherds making the loud noise do not represent Assyria ... but represent the politicians of Judah and the Egyptians. The picture is clear: the lion is Jehovah, his prey is Jerusalem; and the loud but ineffectual shepherds are the politicians and the Egyptians."F9

Zechariah also spoke of "false shepherds" who misled the flock of God; but some scholars have even resorted to "emending" (that means presumptuously changing) the text in order to remove the prospect of God's fighting Jerusalem,! which is a "No, No" indeed for some scholars. However that part of Jerusalem which God is here represented as "fighting against" certainly deserved it. Peake commented on such efforts to pervert the text through emendation, thus: "If we keep the text as it stands (which, of course, we should do), the meaning seems to be that Jehovah will rest Jerusalem from its present rulers."F10 Yes! That is exactly what Jehovah did when he defeated the false shepherds who were advising Hezekiah to accept that alliance with Egypt. That defeat of the false shepherds led to the discarding of the idols in Isa. 31:7, below.


 
Verses 5, 6
As birds hovering, so will Jehovah of hosts protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver [it], he will pass over and preserve [it]. Turn ye unto him from whom ye have deeply revolted, O children of Israel.

This is a renewal of God's promise to protect and preserve Jerusalem from the Assyrians. "Just as the lion will not give up his prey, so Jehovah will not allow the Assyrians to rob him of Jerusalem."F11 Jerusalem would indeed be severely punished, but God had reserved Babylon as the rod he would use for that punishment, not Assyria, which would also be destroyed by Babylon.

Note the use of the words `pass over' in Isa. 31:5. Gleason assures us that this expression comes from the same Hebrew root as Passover,F12 which memorialized another spectacular deliverance of God's people upon the occasion of the Exodus (Exo. 12:13ff).

Speaking of the many figures and metaphors used by the sacred writers to tell us of God's love, Johnson stated that:

"Every ideal of lion-hearted hero, of father strong, yet tender, of all-brooding mother, of living creatures inspired by mighty and mysterious instincts of love, helps to bring into momentary clearness some feature of the nature of God whose being is only dark from excess of light. His voice pleads with youth and innocence, `Come!' and with the sinner and the sophist, `Return.'"F13


 
Verses 7, 8
For in that day they shall cast away every man his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin. And the Assyrian shall fall by the sword, not of man; and the sword, not of men, shall devour him; and he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall become subject to taskwork.

In that day…
(Isaiah 31:7). This normally refers to the last days, or to the times of Messiah's kingdom, or to the eschatalogical affairs of the end time; but the typical nature of the deliverance about to come to Jerusalem also justifies the understanding of the words here as a reference to the times of the invasion of Sennacherib.F14

The promise that Assyria would not fall by the sword of "man," nor the sword of "men," was most remarkably fulfilled in two instances, not only the destruction of Sennacherib's army by the instant death of 185,000 men on a single night, but also by the overthrow of Assyria itself on the very night when they were celebrating their victory, by means of a sudden and untimely flood of the rivers that destroyed the defenses of the city. The destruction in both instances was by, "The direct interposition of God."F15 See the prophecy of Nahum and my comments in Vol. 3 of our series on the minor prophets.


 
Verse 9
And his rock shall pass away by reason of terror, and his princes shall be dismayed at the ensign, saith Jehovah, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.

Cheyne was of the opinion that word "rock" as it appears here must mean "a person."F16 Banes seemed to be just as confident that it referred to certain fortifications by which Sennacherib had protected his line of March (and return) from Egypt, writing: "Perhaps the Assyrian monarch had many such places which he regarded as perfectly secure, both in the limits of his own kingdom, and on the line of march to Judaea."F17 Hailey preferred the view that "the rock" was the king of Assyria, or the pagan gods of Assyria.F18 We think it makes little or no difference what it was; the big point is that: whatever the Assyrians relied upon, it was of no avail whatever, when the lightning stroke of God's judgment fell upon them.

The reference to furnace and fire in the last part of Isa. 31:9, "Suggests that any nation that dares attack Jerusalem will perish in the Lord's fiery furnace."F19


Footnotes for Isaiah 31
1: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 464.
2: W. Clarkson, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10a, p. 510.
3: Ibid.
4: W. Clarkson, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10a, p. 516.
5: Peake's Commentary Series, p. 457.
6: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 281.
7: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 465.
8: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 281.
9: Homer Hailey, p. 265.
10: Peake's Commentary Series, p. 457.
11: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 183.
12: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 631.
13: E, Johnson, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10a, p. 514.
14: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 466.
15: Ibid.
16: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 184.
17: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 467.
18: Homer Hailey, p. 266.
19: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 282.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 31". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=031>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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