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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Isaiah 30

The woe against rebellion by God’s children ch. 30

There are several thematic connections between this chapter and chapter 28. [Note: See the chart under my introductory comments to chapters 28-33 above.] The general structure of the chapter is chiastic.

"A Contemporary events: Egypt no help (1-7)

B Coming human events: the refusal of the word, the way of death (8-17)

B’ Coming divine events: the waiting God, the sure glory (18-26)

A’ Contemporary events: Assyria no threat (27-33)" [Note: Motyer, p. 244.]

The first two parts stress human unfaithfulness, and the last two emphasize divine faithfulness. The first section (Isaiah 30:1-7) is divisible into two parts, the first dealing with the embassy to Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-5), and the second an oracle about the animals of the Negev (Isaiah 30:6-7). The whole woe is for stubborn rebellion against God by seeking foreign alliances.

Verse 1

Yahweh pronounced woe on the Judahites who were acting like rebellious children (cf. Isaiah 1:2; Deuteronomy 21:18-21). They were carrying out a plan that was not the Lord’s. Specifically they were seeking an alliance with Egypt. Yahweh had forbidden alliances with Egypt (Exodus 13:17; Deuteronomy 17:16). These Judahites added to the sin of acting without divine direction, the sin of seeking security from a source other than the Lord Himself.

Verses 1-7

The folly of seeking help from Egypt 30:1-7

Verse 2

How ironic that God’s people thought they could find life in Egypt, which had historically been a place of death for them and from which they had fled formerly (cf. Exodus 1:22). Furthermore, they had done this without even consulting the Lord, a failure that had resulted in the Gibeonite compromise generations earlier (cf. Joshua 9:14). Rather than seeking safety under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalms 91:1), they had sought it under the shadow of Pharaoh.

"In Ashurbanipal’s late reign and in those of his successors, Assyria had become less aggressive. But Psamtik I, Pharaoh of Egypt, increased in power and ambition. Jerusalem’s leaders were determined to play the game of power politics, pitting one superpower against the one they thought would be its successor." [Note: Watts, p. 395.]

Verse 3

The safety they had sought would prove to be a delusion. The supposed protection that Pharaoh offered would result in the disappointment of hope, and the shelter that Egypt promised would turn to disgrace. The Pharaoh at this time was Shabako, a Nubian. The Egyptians were not even strong enough to provide a native Egyptian to rule them. This was a weak period in Egyptian history. I am assuming that the historical context of this prophecy was shortly before Sennacherib’s invasion of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Verse 4

Judah’s ambassadors had reached Egyptian governmental centers at Zoan (Gr. Tanis), in the northern Nile delta, and Hanes, farther south, and were evidently received warmly.

Verse 5

Nevertheless, the Judahites were bound to be ashamed because the Egyptians would not help them fight against the Assyrians. Unwilling to humble themselves, Yahweh would humble His people by humiliating them.

"From the feared killer (Assyria) they seek help in the proved killer (Egypt)! It is ever so when alternatives to the Lord’s salvation are chosen." [Note: Motyer, p. 246.]

Verses 6-7

These verses may constitute an original separate oracle that Isaiah added to the preceding one, since it forms a fitting climax to his thought. Alternatively, the title "oracle" (lit. burden) may be wordplay with the objects of this prophetic message, the burden-bearers (beasts) of the Judean ambassadors. The title is very similar to those in Isaiah 21:1; Isaiah 21:11, and Isaiah 22:1.

Rather than going directly to Egypt through Philistia, the Judean ambassadors had taken the circuitous and dangerous route through the Negev, probably to avoid Assyrian detection. They had taken roughly the same route as their ancestors who left Egypt in the Exodus, only traveling in the opposite direction (cf. Numbers 21:6; Deuteronomy 8:15). This irony highlights the folly of returning to Egypt for help. The Lord expressed more concern for the animals that carried the ambassadors, than for the ambassadors themselves, since the ambassadors were rebelling against Him.

"A caravan loaded with treasure struggles through wild terrain infested with lions and snakes, all to buy the help of an old dragon who is in fact helpless. All the cost in effort and wealth will come to nothing, says the prophet." [Note: Oswalt, p. 547.]

Verse 7

Egypt, of all nations, would not be a help to God’s people. She would live up to the nickname that the Lord had given her (cf. Psalms 87:4). "Rahab" means pride, turbulence, arrogance, boastfulness. There is no intended connection with Rahab the harlot (Joshua 2). In popular Ugaritic legend, Rahab was a sea monster, or a dragon. Her promises of help would be worth nothing. Rahab was a "do nothing" ally.

Verse 8

The Lord commanded Isaiah to write a public record on a table and a private one on a scroll, two enduring witnesses against His people’s lack of trust in Him. The public record was for His people then to learn from, and the private one was for later generations. Other ancient Near Eastern nations recorded uniformly positive and complementary things about themselves, in contrast to what Isaiah wrote here about Judah. The content of what he wrote is unclear, but it was probably this oracle in some form.

Verses 8-17

Punishment for trusting in Egypt 30:8-17

The Lord now commanded Isaiah to record this condemnation for trust in Egypt so there would be a permanent record of it. There were two reasons he was to do this. First, Judah had refused revealed truth in general with the result that she incurred guilt before the Lord (Isaiah 30:9-14; cf. Luke 6:6-11). Second, she had refused a specific message that would result in destruction from an external enemy (Isaiah 30:15-17).

Verse 9

These records were necessary because Israel had proved to be a rebellious, disappointing son of God who refused to listen to His instruction (Heb. torah). This is a general indictment.

Verses 10-11

In their attitudes and actions the Judahites had made the statements in these verses, though probably not with their mouths. They wanted innocuous preaching that did not confront them with the will of the Holy One of Israel.

Verse 12

But the Holy One of Israel would not let them escape His Word. They had rejected His will and had rested their confidence on what seemed best to them.

Verses 13-14

Consequently their iniquity would lead to disaster, similar to the sudden internal collapse of a high wall, and the severe external smashing of an earthenware jar. It would be complete, as when no useful pieces remain after the smashing of a pot. That judgment had not yet come was hardly grounds for concluding that it would not come (cf. Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:32-37; 2 Peter 3:3-10).

"The interval from the first cracks until the actual collapse [of a wall] may be a long time, but when the collapse comes it is terribly sudden and irreversible. So it will be with this refusal to rely on God. Years may pass, but one day the Assyrians will stand at the door with all Judah in ruins behind them." [Note: Oswalt, p. 554.]

When God miraculously slew Sennacherib’s besieging forces around Jerusalem in 701 B.C., the Assyrians had already destroyed much of Judah.

Verse 15

The second, more specific reason for Judah’s coming judgment (cf. Isaiah 30:9), was her refusal to listen to a particular message from the sovereign Lord her God, the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah had called the people to repent and rest in the Lord for their salvation. He had promised that their quiet trust in Him would prove to be their strength (cf. Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 7:10-12; Isaiah 28:12). He had commanded "not alliance but reliance." [Note: G. A. Smith, The Book of Isaiah , 1:128.] Yet the people refused to obey.

Verse 16

Their punishment would be talionic; their punishment would fit their crime. They would flee before their very swift enemy, because they chose to run away on swift horses rather than to rest in the Lord (cf. Matthew 26:52). When we rely on our swiftness and strength, it is only a matter of time before someone faster and stronger comes along and overtakes us.

"The film Chariots of Fire illustrates what this looks like in real life. It tells the story of two men, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Both are great athletes on the same team, but there is a difference. Abrahams competes out of an inner drivenness. He is deeply insecure. He has a point to prove. It’s all about him. Liddell also competes to win. But he runs out of a sense of God’s goodness. He’s not in bondage to himself. He runs for the glory of God. Two men, two motives, two inner lives - Eric Liddell competing in the Holy Spirit, Harold Abrahams running on sheer adrenaline. It’s the difference between spirituality, even in athletics, and self-absorption." [Note: Ortlund, p. 174.]

Verse 17

The threat of only one man would so terrify a thousand Judahites that they would flee. The presence of only a few of the enemy would drive multitudes from their land (cf. Leviticus 26:8; Deuteronomy 32:30). Again, a double illustration (at the end of the verse) stressed a complete overthrow (cf. Isaiah 30:14). A deserted flag or signal on a hilltop would be all that was left to indicate the former presence of the people of Judah (cf. Isaiah 6:11-12). This is probably another reference to the remaining remnant. [Note: Delitzsch, 2:33.]

Verse 18

Yahweh is a God of justice; He will do what is right at the right time. Since He promised to bless His people, He will also, after punishing them for their lack of trust, extend grace and show compassion to them. So those who long for Him will experience blessing when their waiting is over.

Verses 18-26

Distant restoration in spite of unfaithfulness 30:18-26

Until now the emphasis in this "woe" was on human activity, but now divine activity takes the spotlight, especially God’s faithfulness ultimately (Isaiah 30:18-26) and imminently (Isaiah 30:27-33). Human unfaithfulness does not destroy divine faithfulness (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13). This section is also structurally chiastic.

Verse 19

After the tears will come comfort and caring. It is the people of Zion and Jerusalem that will experience this. God will answer their prayers and they will be joyful. This happened in measure at the return from captivity, but the ultimate fulfillment will be at Christ’s second coming.

Verses 20-21

After God hid Himself from His people, having given them privation and oppression as their daily food and drink, as a prison sentence, He would finally reveal Himself to them again. As their teacher, God would guide them in His moral will (cf. Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 26:9; Isaiah 28:9-13; Isaiah 29:11-12). Then their eyes would see Him and their ears would hear His voice correcting their deviations from His path (cf. Isaiah 30:9-11).

Verse 22

They will demonstrate a change of attitude and commitment as well. Idolatry will no longer appeal to them, and they will abandon false gods.

Verses 23-24

There will be plenty of rain so the harvests will be bountiful. The agriculture of Palestine depended totally on rain. [Note: Watts, p. 401.] There will be such abundant pastureland for the cattle that they will eat the best food.

Verses 25-26

There will also be an abundance of water, even on the hilltops, when the Lord defeats His enemies (at Armageddon; cf. Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 2:12-17; Isaiah 25:1-5; Revelation 16:16; Revelation 19:17-21). Increased light and the healing of God’s formerly broken and bruised people will also mark "that day" (cf. Isaiah 24:23; Romans 8:21). The point is that things will be much better then than now. It may be impossible for life as we know it to exist if there were literally seven times as much light as there is now. Yet a renovation of nature as well as humankind is in view.

"Evidently [this is] a description of the glories of the Millennium (since this kind of prosperity has no appropriateness for a heavenly existence)." [Note: Archer, p. 630. Cf. Delitzsch, 2:39.]

Young interpreted these blessings as referring to the blessings of salvation. [Note: Young, 2:360-63]

Verses 27-28

The Lord would involve Himself in Judah’s situation personally, His name being the summation of His character (cf. Exodus 3:15; Ezekiel 1:28). He would come from heaven to judge the nations. The imagery of the passage is strongly anthropomorphic and theophanic (cf. Exodus 13:21; Exodus 19:18; Psalms 18:7-15; Psalms 50:3; Nahum 1:3-8; Habakkuk 3:3-15). "Anthropomorphic" means in human form, and "theophanic" means Godlike in appearance. God’s anger burned like fire, and His judgment would overwhelm people like a flood. He would sift the nations in judgment like grain in a sieve, and He would control them as a rider directs his horse.

Verses 27-33

Immanent restoration in spite of unfaithfulness 30:27-33

From the distant future (millennial blessings), Isaiah turned to the immediate future and promised deliverance from the Assyrian threat. In spite of the Judahites’ sinful reliance on Egypt, God would spare them from defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.

Verses 29-30

The Judahites would rejoice as they worshipped the Lord because of His deliverance (cf. Exodus 15:21; Exodus 17:1-7). It would be spectacular. The storm god with upraised arm was a familiar motif in ancient Near Eastern art. [Note: Pritchard, ed., The Ancient . . ., pp. 481, 484, 486, 490, 531, 532.]

Verses 31-32

Assyria would tremble at God’s judgment of her. The Lord’s blows would be matched by His people’s rejoicing at the defeat of their enemy (cf. Revelation 19:1-10).

Verse 33

Topheth refers to a funeral pyre. The Hebrew word means a disgraceful "burning place" or "fireplace." The Lord had prepared it long ago for the king of Assyria (cf. Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10; Revelation 21:8). Sennacherib met his defeat in Jerusalem when the Lord slew many of his soldiers there, but he personally died in Nineveh shortly after that. Topheth was an area in the valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem where the Israelites sometimes sacrificed their children to the Ammonite idol Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31).

"When the OT speaks of burning bodies it is taken as a sign of vengeance or degradation (cf. 1 Samuel 31:12; Amos 6:10; Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9; Joshua 7:25; ISBE 1:812; IDB 1:475)." [Note: Watts, p. 406. ISBE is the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1979), and IDB is the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (1962).]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 30". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.