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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 31

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-4


Isaiah 31-32


Isaiah 31:1-4

1     Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help;

And stay 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 the Lord!

2     Yet He also is wise,

And will bring evil, and will not 1 call back His words:

But will arise against the house of the evil-doers,
And against the help of them that work iniquity.

3     Now the Egyptians are men, and not God;

And their horses flesh, and not spirit.

2 When the Lord shall stretch out his hand,

3 Both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down,

And they all shall fail together.

4     For thus hath the Lord spoken unto me,

Like as the lion and the young lion 4 roaring on his prey,

When 5 a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him,

He will not be afraid of their voice,

Nor abase himself for the 6 noise of them:

So shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight 7 for mount Zion,

And for the hill thereof.


Isaiah 31:1. לעזרה comp. on Isaiah 10:3; Isaiah 20:6.—Note the structure of sentence in this verse. First a participle depends on הוֹי, which, according to familiar Hebrew usage, in the second clause immediately changes to a verb. finitum, and that the Imperfect, because a continuous, not concluded action is meant; to this is joined the third clause by the Vav consecutivum, because it contains a special consequence of the preceding general clause; whereas the two negative concluding clauses are in the perfect, because they express the fundamental fact, complete and present, that conditions all that precedes. Comp. Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:20 sqq.——פרשׁים comp. on Isaiah 21:7; Isaiah 21:9; Isaiah 22:6 sq.; Isaiah 28:28.—שׁעה comp. on Isaiah 17:7 sq.; Isaiah 22:4.—קדושׁ י׳ comp. on Isaiah 1:4.

Isaiah 31:2. The aorist ויבא depicts the certainty.—הסיר comp. Joshua 11:15.—The expression בית מרעים occurs only here: yet comp. Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 14:20; Psalms 22:17; Psalms 26:5; Psalms 64:3.—עזרה stands here as abstractum proconcreto: the help for the totality of those helping.

Isaiah 31:4. הגה of the growling of a lion only here; comp. on Isaiah 8:19.—מלא, comp. Isaiah 6:3 : Isaiah 8:8, is the full number the totality.


Woe to them——the hill thereof.

Isaiah 31:1-4. The Prophet raises anew his warning voice against trusting to Egyptian help, by representing its uselessness; on the other hand, he promises most glorious help from the grace of Jehovah, on condition of turning back from idols. For the fourth time from 28. on הוי, “woe,” appears here at the head of a section, so that we may regard this resemblance as a sign that these chapters belong together. We must understand by “those that go down,” not only those physically going down to Egypt, but also those that accompanied them in spirit and shared their intention. Five clauses depend on “woe,” which all belong to one and the same degree of time, and in our way of speaking depend on one relative notion: woe to those who go down … lean on … trust … but look not to God … and seek not the Lord. See Text. and Gramm.

The sending to Egypt seemed to the friends of this policy a particularly prudent measure. They plumed themselves far too much on their penetration. In antithesis to it the Prophet says: Jehovah, too, who opposes that policy, is wise. [The comparison is double-edged: “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.”—J. A. A.] This statement, humble as it appears, contains, however, only a divine irony. For if God, comparing His wisdom with that of men, says: “I am wise also,” it means in effect: “I am wise and ye are fools.” The words that the Lord will not recall must be threatenings that He had uttered against the Egyptian alliance (comp. Isaiah 29:14 sqq.; Isaiah 30:12 sqq.). That God keeps His word under all circumstances is declared Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29. The people in Egypt are indeed persons, therefore רוּחוֹת, yet only finite, creature persons, thus not of a divine sort, and no equals of God. But their horses are not even spirit, not even creature spirit, but only weak, perishable flesh. Therefore neither man nor horse in Egypt is to be relied on, and Jehovah has but to stretch forth His hand, and both Egypt that is called to help and Judah that is supported by this help will be laid low.

Isaiah 31:4 proves the statement of Isaiah 31:3 by a comparison. It might, for instance, seem strange that the Lord, Isaiah 31:3, made no difference between Judah and Egypt, as if the former were no more to Him than the latter. Therefore He assures most expressly that no power will be able to deter Him from the judgment determined against Judah. The formula of transition, “for thus hath the Lord spoken unto me,” we had identically or at least similarly Isaiah 8:11; Isaiah 10:24; Isaiah 18:4; Isaiah 21:16; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 30:15. For when a lion has stolen one of the flock, all the shepherds are called to help (note the allusion to the calling on Egypt to help) and save it. But the lion is not alarmed (comp. Isaiah 7:8; Isaiah 30:31; Isaiah 51:6 sq., etc.) by their cry and does not crouch (Isaiah 25:5) at their noise. He does not let them deprive him of his prey. From Bochart (Hieroz. I, cap. 44) on, expositors here recall similar images in Homer,Il. XII. 298 sqq.; XVIII. 161 sqq. So the Lord does not suffer Jerusalem, in as far as He has made it the object of His wrath, to be seized from Him by the mutual aid of Judah and Egypt. Mount and hill of Zion are put antithetically, also Isaiah 10:32. It is seen from this passage that the Prophet understands by the mount the highest summit, the places of the temple and of the king’s house; but by the hill the other dwelling-places of the people. But most expositors understand Isaiah 31:4 of the protection that the Lord would extend to Jerusalem. [Thus Barnes, J. A. Alexander, Birks,etc.] The meaning would then be, not that Egypt, but that He, the Lord, would protect Zion and not suffer His city to be taken from Him. But (with Hitzig, Hendewerk, Delitzsch) I am decidedly of the opinion that the Prophet would say that the Lord will not suffer Jerusalem, as the prey of His anger, to be taken from Him (comp. Isaiah 29:1 sqq.; and regarding צבא with על, Isaiah 29:7-8; Numbers 31:7). In Isaiah 31:3 He has emphatically said, in fact, that both, the protector and the protected, should be destroyed. To this thought the “For” (כִּי, init.) of Isaiah 31:4 must relate. For did it only relate to כשׁל עזר (“the helper shall stumble”), there would arise a direct contradiction between Isaiah 31:3-4. It is urged that Isaiah 31:5 requires Isaiah 31:4 to be taken in a sense favorable to Jerusalem [see Translator’s note on Isaiah 31:5]. But then the fact is overlooked that Isaiah 31:5 has no sort of connecting word that joins it to Isaiah 31:4. It follows abruptly, whereas Isaiah 31:4 is closely joined to Isaiah 31:3 by כִּי. The Prophet purposes here an abrupt transition from darkness to light. In all preceding chapters night and sunshine alternate. All begin with severe threatening, that is to change to glorious promise. This transition is effected in the preceding chapters in a variety of ways. But it accords with the facile spirit of our Prophet once, in the present case, to effect this transition with a leap, as I might say. Would he thereby intimate, perhaps, that the deliverance also shall presently come, with a leap, quite suddenly and unexpected?


[1]Heb. remove.




[5]the totality.

[6]Or, multitude.


Verses 5-9


Isaiah 31:5-9

5     As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem;

Defending also he will deliver it;

And passing over he will preserve it.

6     Turn ye unto him

From whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.

7     For in that day every man shall cast away

His idols of silver, and 8 his idols of gold,

Which your own hands have made unto you 9 for a sin.

8     Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a 10 mighty man;

And the sword, not of a 11 mean man, shall devour him:

But he shall flee 12 from the sword.

And his young men shall be13 14 discomfited.

9     And he 15 shall pass over to 16 his strong hold for fear,

And his princes shall be afraid of the ensign,
Saith the Lord, whose fire is in Zion,

And his furnace in Jerusalem.


Isaiah 31:5. גָנַן Hiph. הֵגֵן = “to make a cover,” is always joined to על (אֶל) Isaiah 37:35; Isaiah 38:6 comp. 2Ki 19:34; 2 Kings 20:6; Zechariah 9:15 or בְּעַד Zechariah 12:8.—גנון והציל פסוח והמליט is to be judged grammatically thus: 1). The infinn. absol., are to be regarded as put after the verb. fin. [יָגֵן; 2) the perfects והציל and והמליט signify by means of the Vav consec. the immediate consequences of that fact of the future intimated by יגן גנון פסוח, which may be expressed by “that.” There is accordingly no reason for regarding הִצִּיל and הִמְלִיט (with Gesenius in loc.), as rare infinitive forms.

Isaiah 31:6. After העמיקו סרה one might look for מִמֶּנּוּ, or perhaps, too, according to the connection, לוִֹ. But אֲשֶׁר is to be construed as a relative word in the broadest sense, or as universal relative adverb (“where”), that involves any kind of relative reference, however determined. העמיקו comp. Isaiah 1:5; Hosea 5:2; Hosea 9:9.—I would not take בני ישׂראל as vocative to שׁוּבוּ, because the third person העמיקו intervenes: it must be regarded as the subject of העמיקו.

Isaiah 31:7. חֵטְא is in the accusative as the casus adverbialis signifying the (inward) modality: “sinful-fashion,” as quite similarly the substantives שֶׁקֶר ,בֶּטַח ,מֵישָׁרִים ,הֶבֶל ,אֱמֶת, are used.

Isaiah 31:8. לֹא אִישׁ, etc., comp. לֹא אִל Deuteronomy 32:5; Amos 6:13; Jeremiah 16:20; לֹא עֵץ Jeremiah 10:15, etc. On the distinction between אישׁ and אדם comp. Isaiah 2:9.—חרב תאכלנו comp. Isaiah 1:20.—נם לו dat. ethicus, comp.Jeremiah 2:22; Jeremiah 36:9.—היה למם “to be held in villanage, made to serve, made a slave” (Genesis 49:15; Deuteronomy 20:11, etc.), only here in Isaiah.

Isaiah 31:9. אוּר “fire, flame,” is quite an Isaianic word, For excepting Ezekiel 5:2, it occurs only in Isaiah 44:16; Isaiah 47:14; Isaiah 1:11, and here.—מָגֹור only here in Isaiah.


1. Judah gains nothing by self-elected human means. But the Lord will help in His fashion. As a bird spreads its feathers over its young, so the Lord protects Jerusalem (Isaiah 31:5). But, of course, only on condition that it turns from its deep falling away to its God (Isaiah 31:6). And this condition will be fulfilled; Israel shall cast away its idols (Isaiah 31:7). And so then Assyria shall be destroyed in all its parts by the sword of the Lord. This will certainly happen, for Jehovah has said it, who has His dwelling in Zion (Isaiah 31:8-9).

2. As birds flying——in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 31:5-8. עָפוֹת; is not predicate, but attribute of צפרים; therefore not “as birds fly,” but as “flying birds.” Of course the form of expression is short, and only suggestive. For it is not said what sort of flying is meant. One sees from the res comparata that the Prophet thinks of birds that, hovering over their young, protect them (comp. Deuteronomy 32:11). That עוּף may mean such hovering appears from its being used for every sort of flying (Deuteronomy 4:17; Isaiah 6:6; Isaiah 11:14; Isaiah 60:8; Zechariah 5:1-2; Psalms 18:11). [These citations prove the very reverse of the Author’s idea.—Tr.] צפור is used sometimes as masculine, sometimes as feminine. Being used here as feminine, one sees that the Prophet thinks of the female bird, therefore of maternal love. In פסוח [from which is derived פֶסַח, “passover”] there lies a plain allusion (comparable to that in Isaiah 30:19) to that sparing of the avenging angel in “passing over” the Israelites, Exodus 12:13; Exodus 12:23; Exodus 12:27 (the only passages, with the text, in which the word occurs in this sense).

[Most readers will likely hesitate to take the Author’s leap from Isaiah 31:4 to Isaiah 31:5, but will rather agree with the almost universal sentiment that embraces them in one paragraph. The transition to light is plainly marked (even rhetorically marked by “turn ye”), at Isaiah 31:6. The Author’s division is prompted by the interpretation of the simile of Isaiah 31:5, which is the common, perhaps the universal interpretation. If this interpretation is correct, and the Author’s interpretation of the simile of Isaiah 31:4 be correct, then the division he makes of the context seems necessary. Certainly the view of Isaiah 31:4 given above seems obvious. The simile expresses “the intensity of God’s purpose” (Barnes). Jerusalem, as the object of His anger, shall not escape Him, or be wrested from Him, no matter how many Egypts may be summoned to thwart Him. This is in perfect accord with the many passages that construe these alliances as rebellion against God Himself. Why shall we not let this clear sense prescribe the meaning of the next simile ? The Author shows how, vice versa, the supposed obvious meaning of Isaiah 31:5 has controlled the interpretation of Isaiah 31:4 (see above). The simile of Isaiah 31:5, then, is but a change of figure, such as is common in Isaiah, and represents by the motions of a bird of prey what was before represented by a beast of prey. It is a picture to the very life. עפות describes the strong-winged bird. It covers (גנון with עַל) its quarry with its wings, and snatches it away (הציל, the common primary sense of נצל in Isa. who frequently uses it in both parts; see List at the end of the volume; comp. also Isaiah 38:6, where both גנן and נצל occur and imply the same figure as here); passing over (פסוח), say the heads of those that would frighten it from its prey, it gets off with it (המליט; comp. Job 20:20 and FuerstLex. s.v.מלט). To this there seems absolutely no objection. The Author’s inference, from the use of צִפּוֹר in the feminine, is not well grounded, seeing that the word is always feminine, there being only two exceptions (see Fuerst’sLex.). Moreover the word is explicitly used by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 39:4; Ezekiel 39:17) of birds of prey along with beasts of prey. The interpretation just given has the advantage of imparting to our context consistent sense and rhetorical harmony.—Tr.]

But to that protecting and sparing grace of God is attached a condition, which is expressed Isaiah 31:6. Israel must turn back from its idols (Isaiah 31:7) to its God. As we supply in thought this condition here, so at Isaiah 31:7 we must supply the thought that Israel is ready to fulfil this condition. In that day points into the time that the Prophet has before his eyes in all these promises. It is the day of salvation that begins with the deliverance from Assyria as its first morning twilight, and continues to the end of all days (comp. Isaiah 30:26). Within this time will fall the entire conversion of Israel from idols. But the precise moment of this the Prophet does not declare. For he does not distinguish the stages of time. He does not see the things one after the other, but beside one another. Idols of silver,etc.—See Isaiah 2:20; comp. Isaiah 30:22; Isaiah 27:9; Isaiah 17:8. What has just been said is confirmed anew by Isaiah 31:8. For there it appears as if the overthrow of Assyria would follow the time in which Israel would renounce the worship of idols, whereas in fact the reverse was true. [Why may not 2 Kings 18:1-8, with the history of Sennacherib following, be taken as a literal fulfilment, in its degree, and in the actual order of the text? So Barnes.—Tr.] The Prophet even sees Assyria’s fall along with the events of the last time. To determine the exact time relation is not his affair. It is enough for him to settle the “that” of the great facts of the future. The “when” can only become perfectly clear by the fulfilment.

For the understanding of Isaiah 31:9 it must first of all be settled that Assyria shall fall, not by human, but by God’s power! By this means we will avoid several explanations that are prosaic or far-fetched. The antithesis to שָׂרִים, “princes” (comp. also Isaiah 32:2) suggests that by סלע is to be understood the king of Assyria (Luther, Hendewerk, Delitzsch). This hitherto strong and never shaken refuge of His army shall now suddenly abscond and disappear (comp. Isaiah 40:27; Deuteronomy 26:13; 1 Kings 22:24, etc.). The parallelism with ממגור indicates that מנם refers not to the Assyrian standard that the princes desert, but to the Jewish, whose appearance is enough to put them to cowardly flight. Israel may assuredly rely on this comforting promise, for it proceeds from the mouth of God, who has chosen Zion above every other place in the whole earth as His dwelling-place. It is implied that He Himself is interested in bringing to nought the plan of the Assyrian; for it would, so to speak, have driven Jehovah Himself out of His own favorite dwelling. אַוּר is the fire at which one warms himself, and תּנּוּר is the oven in which one cooks, and especially bakes bread. It never signifies the hearth for sacrificial fire. The expression is anthropomorphic, but for Israel uncommonly honorable and comforting. For by it Zion is signified to be not a mere place of worship, but actually the earthly home of Jehovah. [“But this use of fire and furnace is not only foreign from the usage of the Scriptures, but from the habits of the Orientals, who have no such association of ideas between hearth and home. The true explanation of the 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.”—J. A. Alexander,in loc.].


[8]Hob. the idols of his gold.


[10]Omit mighty.

[11]Omit mean.

[12]Or, for fear of the sword.

[13]Or, tributary.

[14]Heb. for melting, or tribute.

[15]Heb. his rock shall pass away for fear.

[16]Or, his strength.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 31". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/isaiah-31.html. 1857-84.
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