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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 30

Verse 1

No one knows exactly when Isaiah wrote this chapter; but it was evidently shortly before Sennacherib's invasion of Judah in 701 B.C. Barnes dated it at "the same time as the previous chapter,"[1] which was dated by Dummelow "on the very eve of Sennacherib's invasion."[2] Jamieson and other scholars move the date about a decade earlier, "probably in the summer of 714 B.C."[3] It is not at all necessary to know the exact date. That the era just prior to the Sennacherib invasion is the correct placement of this whole division is proved by the repeated references to the sudden end of the Assyrian threat, "between evening and morning," "without human hand," etc.

Barnes described the political situation in Jerusalem about the time of this chapter thus:

"It is evident that the chapter pertains to the times of Hezekiah when the Jews were alarmed by the looming invasion of Sennacherib. It was known that Sennacherib intended to make war on Egypt, and it was apparent that he could easily take Judah on the same campaign. In such circumstances, it was natural that the people should propose an alliance with Egypt, and seek to unite their forces with Egypt to repel the common danger. Instead of looking to God, who had promised to protect his people, and who had warned the people that both Egypt and her ally Ethiopia would fall to Assyria, Hezekiah pursued that sinful alliance with Egypt."[4]

This chapter may be divided in several ways; but we shall follow the practical paragraphing proposed by Dummelow: (1) warning against the Egyptian alliance (Isaiah 30:1-7); (2) the perversity of Judah (Isaiah 30:8-11); (3) the resulting disaster for Judah (Isaiah 30:12-17); (4) the glory for the righteous remnant (Isaiah 30:18-26); (5) Jehovah will destroy the Assyrians (Isaiah 30:27-33).

Isaiah 30:1-7


"Woe to the rebellious children, saith Jehovah, that take counsel, but not of me; and that make a league; but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; that set out to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to take refuge in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the refuge in the shadow of Egypt your confusion. For their princes are at Zoan, and their ambassadors are come to Hanes. They shall all be ashamed because of people that cannot profit them, that are not a help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach. The burden of the beasts of the South. Through the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the lioness, and the lion, the viper, and fiery flying serpent, they carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the humps of camels, to a people that shall not profit them. But Egypt helpeth in vain, and to no purpose, therefore have I called her Rahab that sitteth still."

In the first two verses here, there appears to be on God's part a certain amazement that rebellious Israel should prove to be so incredibly stupid as to follow the pattern of behavior they had chosen. Israel had already been shamefully defeated by the strategy of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:14) on the occasion when they forgot or refused to consult the will of God regarding what they should have done; and here they actually decided to team up with a people who had traditionally been their worst enemies, and without seeking to know the will of God on such a matter! Furthermore, God had already prophesied the defeat of both Egypt and her ally Ethiopia, a prophecy that Israel did not even believe. The god of this world had indeed blinded their eyes!

Strengthening themselves in the strength of Pharaoh and taking refuge in the shadow of Egypt, in the light of all that Israel was supposed to know, appear incredible, even to us. Under God's law, rebellious children were to be put to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-20); and the charge here in the very first verse amounts to God's declaration that Israel deserved death.

Moreover, when God prophesied the placement of a king over Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-17), he specifically commanded that, (1) the king should not go back to Egypt for the purpose of procuring horses, and that (2) "Henceforth ye shall return no more that way." And yet, despite all that, right here in this chapter, the princes of Judah are (1) again going right back through that terrible wilderness on their way to Egypt, and (2) boasting about the horses they shall ride (Isaiah 30:16)!

Our margin gives an alternate reading for "make a league" (Isaiah 30:1), "pour out a drink offering." Loth tells us that this is literally what the Hebrew text says. "Sacrifice and libation were ceremonies constantly used in ancient times by most nations in the ratifying of covenants ... and the word stands for both. The Septuagint (LXX) translation agrees with American Standard Version."[5] The significance of this is that "the league" mentioned here involved Israel's tacit recognition of Egypt's pagan gods and the offering of a sacrifice to such gods, the very same gods that God had so disastrously defeated in the events leading up to the Exodus!

The mention of the princes and ambassadors having already arrived at Zoan and Hanes shows the extent of Hezekiah's involvement in this sinful scheme to team-up with Egypt. "Both Zoan and Hanes were the seats of reigning princes at the time of Hezekiah, therefore delegations were sent to both."[6] Recent research on "Hanes," however has questioned this, "`Hanes' may be merely a Hebrew translation of a word that means `mansion of the king.'"[7] Another explanation supposes that `Hanes' might have been the headquarters of Egypt's ally, Ethiopia. None of these explanations has been proved.

"The burden of the beasts of the South ..." (Isaiah 30:6). This is a reference to, "The beasts of the ambassadors, burdened with the riches of Judah, presents for Egypt traveling southwards."[8] As Lowth pointed out, "`Burden' must be understood here in the ordinary sense of `a load.'"

"Therefore have I called her Rahab ..." (Isaiah 30:7). "This is not the same name as that in Joshua 2; it is spelled differently."[9] James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible (1929) rendered it "Dragon Do Nothing!" Leupold, as quoted by Hailey, translated it, "A Big Mouth that is a Do-nothing."[10] Payne stated that "Rahab was a mythical primeval monster defeated by the pagan god Baal, in Canaanite religious beliefs."[11] At any rate, it was God's warning through Isaiah that Egypt was not fit to be a panner with Israel.

Verse 8


"Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for time to come forever and ever. For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of Jehovah; that say to the seers, See not, and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits, get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us."

God instructed Isaiah in Isaiah 30:8 to write his prophecy in a book, "that it might be a witness forever, in order to prove the accuracy of the prophesy after history had vindicated it."[12] This is another example, among many, many others, of behavior on the part of the prophet that cannot be reconciled with a "prophecy written after the event." Note that, "The perpetuity of the written Word is here accepted as a certainty."[13]

"Children that will not hear the law of Jehovah ..." (Isaiah 30:9). One needs to be outraged by such a comment as that of Dummelow who wrote, "`The law' here refers to `oral instruction' given by the prophet."[14] No indeed! It is a favorite canard of critics that the Pentateuch did not exist at so early a date; but we are absolutely certain that references of this kind, of which there are literally dozens of them in all of the prophets, point squarely at the Pentateuch, which traditionally has for countless ages been called "the law," there being no true basis whatever for denying that meaning of the words here.

The rebellious Israelites are here represented as saying to Isaiah, "Get out of our way ... stop talking about that Holy One of Israel ... Prophesy things we want to hear ... Do not bother with the truth at all." Of course, as Hailey said, "Surely they were not honest enough to come right out and say such things";[15] but these verses graphically reveal their true sentiments.

The same attitude prevails in our world today in which people will not support preaching which reveals their sins and the certain punishment a righteous and holy God will execute upon wicked and unrepentant men, but prefer preaching that portrays God as a senile old grandfather, too lazy or indifferent to spank one of the children no matter what crimes of blood and lust rage beneath his very nose. Yes indeed, God is a God of love; but he is also a God of righteousness and justice; and "Vengeance belongeth unto God." Gleason also noted this "modern" development: "Very modern is this demand that their clergy temper their messages to the desires and preferences of the people, rather than preach some unpopular doctrine derived from the Word of God."[16] This attitude destroyed ancient Israel; and it will do no less for any generation that is foolish enough to adopt it.

Verse 12


"Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and rely thereon; therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly in an instant. And he shall break it as a potter's vessel is broken, breaking it in pieces without sparing: so that there shall not be found among the pieces thereof a sherd wherewith to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.

"For thus said the Lord Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. And ye would not: but ye said, No, for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift. One thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on a hill."

The mention of "oppression" in Isaiah 30:12 "is a reference to oppressive measures employed to procure the rich gifts that had to be sent to Egypt (Compare 2 Kings 15:20)."[17]

In the first paragraph here, Isaiah, as he frequently did, resorted to a double metaphor to describe the projected fall of Jerusalem: the bulging high wall ready to fall, and the smashed piece of pottery. The higher the wall the greater the damage; and the collapse would come suddenly. In the case of the smashed pottery, there would not be a piece of it left that was big enough to pick up a coal of fire off of the hearth, or sufficiently large to enable one to get a drink by using a piece of it at a spring of water. The ruin of Judah would be complete.

The only hope for Israel lay in their repentance and return to the God of their fathers, and in their abandonment of foreign alliances and in a renewed reliance upon the wisdom and protection of God.

The second paragraph here records the rebellious attitude of the people. They will not trust God at all; they are going to Egypt and get plenty of horses, etc. "However, the horses will serve them only for flight from the enemy. A thousand will be pursued by one, until they be left as lonely as a flag-staff on the summit of a hill."[18]

"Isaiah 30:17 is a sad reversal of the promise to Israel in Leviticus 26:8 and Deuteronomy 32:30."[19]

Verse 18


"And therefore will Jehovah wait, that he may be gracious unto you; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for Jehovah is a God of justice; blessed are all they that wait for him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; thou shalt weep no more; he will surely be gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear, he will answer thee. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be hidden any more, but thine eye shall see thy teachers; and thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. And ye shall defile the overlaying of thy graven images of silver, and the plating of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as an unclean thing; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence."

"The word behind thee ..." (Isaiah 30:21). God's Word "behind Israel" would most certainly mean that they were not "following" the Lord, but that they had sinfully gone onward away from him.

The immediate promise of these good things for Israel would be fulfilled in the destruction of the Assyrian armies; "But the prophecy looks far beyond that to the Golden Age (Isaiah 23-26) (the age of Messiah)."[20] The fulfillment of the first promise was a proof of the certainty of the latter one.

That this prophecy reaches far beyond the destruction of Sennacherib's army is seen in the total rejection of idol worship which occurred at the end of the exile.

"The promises of Isaiah 30:20-22 describe the days of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff), and not the final glory";[21] because there remains here the element of adversity, tribulation. One of the current popular errors regards the so-called "rapture" of the church in which God's people shall escape tribulation. No way! It is written concerning "all the saints of God," that, "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Take a careful look at that word "must."

Verse 23


"And he will give the rain for thy seed, wherewith thou shalt sow the ground; and bread of the increase of the ground, and it shall be fat and plenteous. In that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures; the oxen likewise and the young asses that till the ground shall eat savory provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fork. And there shall be upon every lofty mountain, and upon every high hill, brooks and streams of water, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that Jehovah bindeth up the hurt of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound."

This is an agricultural metaphor of very extravagant promises of God's blessings; "But we must understand that this language prefigures the glorious blessings in Christ (Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 2:8-10)."[22] Yes indeed, it also refers to marvelous blessings to Israel after the return from Babylonian captivity; but the continued rebellion of Israel prevented the full blessings God intended for Israel after their return. God had promised to bless Israel "above the blessings upon their fathers" (Deuteronomy 30:5) and that he would do more for them than at their "beginning" (Ezekiel 36:11); but it seems never to have occurred to Israel that these blessings were contingent, absolutely, upon their fidelity to God and upon their honoring and abiding by the teachings of his word. Even today, many Christian people are making the same tragic mistake, prattling about salvation "by faith alone." Israel tried that method and it didn't work. Neither will it work now (James 2:24). Even as late as the days of Malachi, God said that he would "open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10); but Israel continually forfeited such blessings by their rebellions.

The thing that destroyed Israel was their blind and foolish appropriation of God's most sacred promises without regard to the contingency, existing always, whether stated or not, that the blessings will be received only by the obedient! One of the most important passages in all the Word of God is this:

"At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them" (Jeremiah 18:7-10).

"That these verses (Isaiah 30:23-26) refer to the times of the Messiah there can be little or no room to doubt. It is language which Isaiah commonly employed to describe those times; and there is a fullness and splendor about it that can suit no other period."[23]

Verse 27


"Behold the name of Jehovah cometh from far, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue is a devouring fire; and his breath is an overflowing stream, that reacheth even unto the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction: and a bridle that causeth to err shall be in the jaws of the peoples. Ye shall have a song as in a night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness in the heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come unto the mountain of Jehovah, to the Rock of Israel. And Jehovah shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and will show the lightning down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and the flame of a devouring fire, with a blast, and tempest, and hailstones. For through the voice of Jehovah shall the Assyrian be dismayed; with his rod will he smite him. and every stroke of the appointed staff, which Jehovah shall lay upon him, shall be with the sound of tabrets and harps; and in battles with the brandishing of his arm, will he fight with them. For a Tophet is prepared of old; yea, for the king it is made ready; he hath made it deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of Jehovah, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it."

There is strange intermingling here of songs and tabrets and harps, along with terrible destruction and death. "The simple idea is, that the sudden and complete destruction of Sennacherib's army would be the occasion of the highest joy in Israel."[24]

Despite the application of these verses to the forthcoming destruction of Sennacherib's host, "They further apply to the end time. One day, the godless powers of the earth will find themselves caught like Judah (Isaiah 8:8) in a rising tide, and drawn by God's bridle (like Assyria in Isaiah 37:29) to their destruction."[25] However, the grave of the oppressors on that Day of Judgment will not be the Red Sea, but Tophet.

This mention of "bridle" appears to be a reference to the habit of the Assyrians of linking long lines of prisoners together with devices fastened in the ears, the jaws, or the lips of their victims as they were cruelly marched away. Here it is used to describe the unwillingness of evil men to face God in judgment, (Revelation 6:12ff), and their inability to avoid it.

Tophet is the name of the same place that is called in the New Testament "Gehenna", or hell, the New Testament name having been derived from "Sons of Hinnon," as suggested in Jeremiah 7:31. This abominable valley (of Topher) was the shrine of a pagan god Molech (Melech), to whom a giant statue with brazen arms and a furnace in his belly had been erected, and who was worshipped by casting little babies alive into his arms heated red hot, the cries of which were drowned out with noisy drums and instruments of music. Even a king of Israel (Ahaz) sacrificed his son unto Molech (2 Kings 16:3). They called this monstrous ceremony "passing through the fire to Molech!" No wonder such a place gave a name that in the New Testament would mean "hell."

The destruction prophesied here for Assyria will be accomplished by God's rod (Isaiah 30:31); but Assyria was God's "rod" in Isaiah 10:5; and now it will be another "rod of God" that Jehovah will use to destroy Assyria. "Babylon was the `rod' that destroyed Assyria."[26]

This paragraph gives a magnificent picture indeed of Jehovah as the judge and the ultimate destroyer of wicked men. Nothing is more emphatically taught in both the Old Testament and the New Testament than the ultimate promise of Almighty God to "judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom he has appointed, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:31f).

Despite the fact of the unwillingness of many millions of people today to believe in any such thing as the eternal judgment, it stands, nevertheless, in the New Testament, where it is designated as one of the "Six Fundamentals" of the Christian religion (Hebrews 6:2).

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 30". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.