The Prophecy of Isaiah: The Fourth Woe. Isaiah 31-32
The Destruction of the Helper and the Helped together. Isaiah 31:1-5.
The prophet proclaims a new woe against them that go down to Egypt for help. He describes the posture of these people. They rely on horses and trust in chariots because of their number and in strong horsemen. Thus making flesh their arm, they do not regard with attention and favor the holy one of Israel to seek after the Lord (vs. 1). They think that sending to Egypt is a particularly prudent measure, and so they pride themselves on their wisdom. But the Lord is also wise, meaning that He alone is wise and that they are fools and so their wisdom, it is foolishness. The future will disclose it, when the Lord brings all the evil that He threatened. He will not remove His words as if they were a mistake. But He will rise against the house of evildoers—the apostates that trust in Egypt's might—and against the help of them that work iniquity, i.e., the Egyptians whose help was being purchased (vs. 2).
It is unutterably foolish to rely in horse and man of Egypt. The Egyptians are but men, i.e., spirit, creature persons. They are not God. And their horses are flesh and not spirit and thus something less than men. But the Lord shall stretch forth His hand and both the Egypt that is being called to help and the Judah that is being supported by this help shall be destroyed together (vs. 3).
The prophet knows for the Lord has thus spoken unto him. A lion has taken one from the flock and all the shepherds hasten in a body to save it. But the lion is not afraid of the voice of the shepherds. He does not crouch at, their noise, but roars his defiance. So shall the Lord come down to fight upon mount Zion and upon the hill thereof. As a mother bird hovers over her young so will the Lord hover over Jerusalem and will deliver her. Passing over He will cause her to escape (vss. 4, 5).
It is not difficult to determine how these similes the one of the lion and that of the bird must be explained. The prophet has just declared (vs. 3) that the league between the apostates and the Egyptians for the defense of Judah will fail. The menacing power here is again Assyria in the first instance (see vss. 8, 9). Yet Jerusalem will not fall because there is wanting a helper. The Lord of Hosts himself will come down on Zion to fight for her,—Zion the church of the elect. Doubtless this is the thought conveyed, namely that the help of Israel stands solely in the name of the Lord and not in any alliance such as the apostates were promoting.
But according to others the idea of these verses is that, the Lord will not allow the apostates in Judah collaborating with the Egyptians (shepherds in the simile) to snatch Jerusalem, that He has made the object of His wrath and hence His prey, out of His hand. He will bring against the city all the evil that He has spoken. The flying bird is then taken as a vulture guarding its prey (Jerusalem) that it is about to devour.
But the first exposition agrees much better with the whole contest and especially with the verses that follow. When Christ who is the body will have come, Jerusalem will vanish away through its own sins. But until then the Lord will defend the city as a type of the heavenly and doing so in token of His eternal love of His people, the church of the elect, that through all the ages to come He will preserve and clothe finally with a perfection and glory that is heavenly.
It is this that the similes image, namely the Lord's loving care of Zion, Christ's zeal of His house. Necessarily implied is the redemption of the church through Christ's blood.
And so the prophet can continue with commanding a return unto Him—the Lord—from whom the children of Israel have departed and can add that in that day every man shall cast away his idols that his own hands made for himself for idolatrous purposes. Such will be the fruit of the Lord's efficacious speaking of His command in the hearts of the redeemed ones (vss. 6, 7). The repudiation of idolatry will be followed by the fall of the Assyrian with a sword other than that of man (vs. 8a).
The allusion is in the first instance to the sword of the angel of the Lord that devoured of the host of the Assyrians, encamped round about Jerusalem, 185,000 men in that one fearful night.
From that sword the Assyrians that survive the slaughter shall flee. Their choicest men will be for melting, i.e., their heart shall quake with fear. Their rock, the king of Assyria, who because of his courage and fortitude—hence, rock—was the stay of his army, shall go away furtively as in fear. His princes shall be afraid of Israel's banner, i.e., they shall be terrorized by the mere sight of it (vss. 8b, 9a).
"Saith the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem." The allusion is to the fire of the Lord's name as symbolized by the fire of His altars. His wrath shall flame to consume His enemies (vs. 9b).