Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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Reliance upon Egypt is distrust of God, who will avenge himself by destroying both the helper and the helped, vs. 1-3. His determination and ability to save those who confide in his protection are expressed by two comparisons, vs. 4-5. The people are therefore invited to return to him, from every false dependence, human or idolatrous, as they will be constrained to do with shame, when they shall witness the destruction of their enemies by the resistless fire of his wrath, vs. 6-9. This chapter seems to be a direct continuation, or at most a repetition, of the threatenings and reproofs which had just been uttered.

1. Woe to those going down to Egypt for help, and on horses they lean (or rely), and trust in cavalry, because it is numerous, and in horsemen, because they are very strong, and they look not to the Holy One of Israel, and Jehovah they seek not. The abundance of horses in Egypt is attested, not only in other parts of Scripture, but by profane writers. Homer describes Thebes as having a hundred gates. out of each of which two hundred warriors went forth with chariots and horses. Diodorus speaks of the whole country between Thebes and Memphis as filled with royal stables. The horses of Solomon are expressly said to have been brought out of Egypt. This kind of military force was more highly valued, in comparison with infantry, by the ancients than the moderns, and especially by those who, like the Hebrews, were almost entirely deprived of it themselves. Hence their reliance upon foreign aid is frequently identified with confidence in horses, and contrasted with simple trust in God (Psalm 20:7). To seek Jehovah is not merely to consult him, but to seek his aid, resort to him, implying the strongest confidence. For the meaning of the phrase look to, see the note on ch. 17:8.

2. And (yet) he too is wise, and brings evil, and his words he removes not, and he rises up against the house of evil-doers, and against the help of the workers of iniquity. The word yet is required by our idiom in this connection. Too implies a comparison with the Egyptians, upon whose wisdom, as well as strength, the Jews may have relied, or with the Jews themselves, who no doubt reckoned it a masterpiece of wisdom to secure such powerful assistance. The comparison may be explained as comprehending both. God was as wise as the Egyptians, and ought therefore to have been consulted; he was as wise as the Jews, and could therefore thwart their boasted policy. There is in this sentence an obvious irony. The house of evil-doers is their family or race (ch. 1:4). here applied to the unbelieving Jews. The Egyptians are called their help, and both are threatened with destruction. To rise up is to show one's self, address one's self to action, and implies a state of previous forbearance or neglect.

3. And Egypt (is) man and not God, and their horses flesh and not spirit, and Jehovah shall stretch out his hand, and the helper shall stumble and the helped fall, and together all of them shall cease (or be destroyed). This verse repeats the contrast between human and divine aid, and the threatening that the unbelievers and their foreign helpers should be involved in the same destruction. The antithesis of flesh and spirit, like that of God and man, is not metaphysical but rhetorical, and is intended simply to express extreme dissimilitude or inequality. Reliance upon Egypt is again sarcastically represented as reliance upon horses, and as such opposed to confidence in God. As Egypt here means the Egyptians, it is afterwards referred to as a plural. Stumble and fall are here poetical equivalents.

4. For thus saith Jehovah unto me, As a lion growls, and a young lion, over his prey, against whom a multitude of shepherds is called forth, at their voice he is not frightened, and at their noise he is not humbled, so will Jehovah of Hosts come down, to fight upon Mount Zion and upon her hill. This is still another form of the same contrast. The comparison is a favourite one with Homer, and occurs in the eighteenth book of the Iliad, in terms almost identical. Growl is to be preferred to roar, because the Hebrew word more properly denotes a suppressed or feeble sound. Most interpreters have for Mount Zion. Others regard this as a threatening that God will take part with the Assyrians against Jerusalem, the promise of deliverance beginning with the next verse. By supposing the particle to mean concerning, we can explain its use both in a hostile and a favourable sense. The for at the beginning of this verse introduces the ground or reason of the declaration that the seeking of foreign aid was both unlawful and unnecessary. The hill is by some supposed to be Moriah, as an appendage of Mount Zion; but it may just as well be simply parallel to mountain, the mountain of Zion and the hill thereof.

5. As birds flying (over or around their nests), so will Jehovah cover over (or protect) Jerusalem, cover and rescue, pass over and save. The verb here is the one used to denote the passing over of the houses in Egypt by the destroying angel to which there may be an allusion here.

6. Since you need no protection but Jehovah's, therefore, return unto him from whom (or with respect to whom) the children of Israel have deeply revolted (literally, have deepened revolt). The last words may also be read, from whom they (i. e. men indefinitely) have deeply revolted, oh ye children of Israel. Deep may be here used to convey the specific idea of debasement, or the more general one of distance, or still more generally, as a mere intensive, like our common phrases deeply grieved or deeply injured. The analogy of ch. 29:15, however, would suggest the idea of deep contrivance or design, which is equally appropriate.

7. This acknowledgment you will be constrained to make sooner or later. For in that day (of miraculous deliverance) they shall reject (cast away with contempt), a man (i. e. each) his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your sinful hands have made for you, or, which your own hands have made for you as sin, i. e. as an occasion and a means of sin. In like manner the golden calves are called the sin of Israel (Deut. 9:21. Am. 8:14). For the true construction of his silver and his gold, see the note on ch. 2:20. Trust in idols and reliance upon human helpers are here, and often elsewhere, put together, as identical in principle, and closely connected in the experience of ancient Israel. (See the notes on ch. 2.8, 22.)

8. This future abandonment of all false confidences is described as springing from the demonstration of Jehovah's willingness and power to save. And Assyria shall fall by no man's sword, and no mortal's sword shall devour him, and (yet) he shall flee from before the sword, and his young men (or chosen warriors) shall become tributary (literally, tribute). No man's sword, but that of God. The objection that the prophecy, as thus explained, was not fulfilled, proceeds upon the false assumption that it refers exclusively to the overthrow of Sennacherib's host, whereas it describes the decline and fall of the Assyrian power after that catastrophe.

9. And his rock (i. e. his strength) from fear shall pass away, and his chiefs shall be afraid of a standard (or signal, as denoting the presence of the enemy), saith Jehovah, to whom there is a fire in Zion and a furnace in Jerusalem. The true explanation of the last clause seems to be that which supposes an allusion both to the sacred fire on the altar and to the consuming fire of God's presence, whose altar flames in Zion and whose wrath shall thence flame to destroy his enemies. Compare the explanation of the mystical name Ariel in the note on ch. 29:1.