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Chapter 30 The Fourth Woe. Against Those Who Trust in Egypt Rather than in Yahweh (Isaiah 30:1-7 ).
Having broken with Assyria and withheld tribute, as a result of the death of Sargon II of Assyria and the troubles that the new king Sennacherib was experiencing in cementing his kingship, Hezekiah and Judah now had to choose what they would do. Babylon’s rebellion had failed and she had been crushed by Sennacherib. She could no longer be counted on. Would they look to and depend on Egypt, who were making representations to them and to other allies, with all the compromises that that would involve, or would they look to and depend solely on Yahweh? Isaiah’s stress was on total dependence on Yahweh, but Hezekiah and his advisers favoured Egypt.
It was ironic that the people who had been delivered from Egypt’s bondage could not shake off their connections with Egypt. They had only to look at their history to realise which choice would be better for them. But they had a mistaken view of Egypt’s power and preferred the help that they could see. They overlooked the fact that in the end Egypt, if successful, might make even greater demands on them than Assyria. Such help did not come cheap.
We too must choose whether we will look back nostalgically to the past and also whether we will look at the things that are seen, or alternatively whether we will look at the things which are unseen, for the past is behind us and the things which are seen are temporal, while the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).
· Woe to the rebellious children,” says Yahweh, “Who take counsel, but not of me, and who cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they might add sin to sin” (Isaiah 30:1).
· “Who walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth, to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt” (Isaiah 30:2).
· ‘Therefore will the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion (Isaiah 30:3).
· ‘For his princes are at Zoan, and his ambassadors have come to Hanes. They will all be ashamed of a people who cannot profit them, who are not a help or a profit, but a shame and also a reproach (Isaiah 30:4-5).
In ‘a’ the people take counsel anywhere but of Yahweh, and in the parallel their counsel is sought from Egypt. In ‘b’ they walk down to Egypt and look to the strength of Pharaoh, and trust in the shadow of Egypt, and in the parallel the strength of Pharaoh will be their shame and the trust in the shadow of Egypt their confusion.
“Woe to the rebellious children,” says Yahweh,
“Who take counsel, but not of me,
And who cover with a covering, but not of my spirit,
That they might add sin to sin,
Who walk to go down into Egypt,
And have not asked at my mouth,
To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh,
And to trust in the shadow of Egypt.”
God now declares a woe on His people. The act of seeking to Egypt for help against Assyria rather than to God is here seen as rebellion against God. For the stark choice lay before them. Would they trust in Yahweh, seek, and walk in His guidance, and make their plans accordingly, or would they seek the guidance of Pharaoh, seen by Egyptians as the living Horus, son of Osiris, and be guided by Egypt, making their plans in alliance with them?
Note that their choice of Egypt is said to be because of their predilection for sin. They were like rebellious children, looking to anyone but their Father for advice. They were adding sin to sin. For the real truth was that seeking to Yahweh was too demanding. He then expected them to obey Him and walk in His ways. And that is why they looked elsewhere. It was history repeating itself. Thus did they add to their sins, their ‘falling short’ of God’s requirements. When a man says, ‘I no longer believe’, what he usually means is ‘there are things I want to do which my belief is preventing’.
So the reason that they had lost faith in Yahweh was not because they saw Him as inadequate or unable to cope, but because they had turned their eyes from Him because of His covenant demands. They had found the covenant too burdensome. The result was that they then had to look elsewhere, and that is when they rested their new faith in Egypt. They then walked in the wisdom of the world and not in the wisdom of God. Was not Egypt a mighty nation? Must their gods not be powerful? Look at their chariots and horsemen. And did they not have a reputation for wisdom? But it would never have happened if they had not first turned away from Yahweh.
To ‘cover with a covering’ meant taking as a form of protection. But the covering they took was not that of the Mighty Yahweh, it was not as guided by His Spirit, or as within His will, but it was the covering of the shadow of Egypt. They did not trust to the strength of Yahweh but to the strength of Pharaoh. They preferred what they could see to what they could not see (compare 2 Corinthians 4:18).
‘Walk to go down into Egypt’. That is, they made the deliberate choice. They chose the direction in which they would walk. When the option was given to them they had to choose what they would do. It was not that they were not faced with the options. Isaiah’s voice was loud and clear. They simply had to choose what they would do, listen to Isaiah and to Yahweh, or listen to Pharaoh’s messengers (Isaiah 18:2). They chose Pharaoh.
All of us face similar choices in our daily lives and walk. Which will it be for us? God’s way or man’s way?
‘Therefore will the strength of Pharaoh be your shame,
And the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.’
He stresses that they will live to regret their choice. They will find the strength of Pharaoh insufficient. It will leave them exposed. They will find the shadow of Egypt brings defeat and disaster. It will fill them with confusion. The corollary is that the only sensible path would be to trust Yahweh, Whose shadow would be sufficient, and Whose strength would guarantee deliverance.
‘For his princes are at Zoan,
And his ambassadors have come to Hanes.
They will all be ashamed of a people who cannot profit them,
Who are not a help or a profit, but a shame and also a reproach.’
The consultations will take place at Zoan in the northern Delta, the power base of Shabako, the Cushite king of Egypt, and at Hanes. Hanes is possibly a transliteration of the Egyptian Ha-nesu meaning ‘the king’s mansion’. The princes and ambassadors are probably those of Hezekiah. They have made their choice and now here they are. But it is a great mistake. In the end they will discover that Egypt cannot help them, will not profit them, and in the end will not be willing to back them sufficiently. Thus they will in the end shamed by them. For Egypt itself will fail in its promises and be a shame and a reproach to them. (Egypt always ensured that they did not commit themselves sufficiently to bring disaster on themselves. They knew that they could always retire beyond their strong borders. They were fair weather friends). Indeed the defeat of the Egyptian army by Assyria at Eltekeh will simply add to their shame and confusion.
The Burden of the Beasts of the South (Isaiah 30:6-7 ).
A prophetic burden usually indicates judgment on the subject of the burden. Here the judgment is on the beasts who carry the bribes to Egypt. For they carry them to no purpose, for Egypt is a powerless monster.
a ‘The burden of the beasts of the south (the Negeb). Through the land of trouble and anguish, from where come the lioness and the lion, the viper and the fiery flying serpent, they carry their riches on the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures on the humps of camels (Isaiah 30:6 a).
b To a people who will not profit (Isaiah 30:6 b).
b For Egypt helps in vain and to no purpose. (Isaiah 30:7 a).
a Therefore have I called her, “Rahab who sits still” (Isaiah 30:7 b).
In ‘a’ they make a great effort to seek Egypt’s help circumventing all the fearsome creatures of the desert, and in the parallel Egypt is a monster who sits still and does nothing. In ‘b’ they go to a people who will not profit, and in the parallel discover that Egypt helps in vain and to no purpose.
‘The burden of the beasts of the south (the Negeb).
Through the land of trouble and anguish,
From where come the lioness and the lion,
The viper and the fiery flying serpent,
They carry their riches on the shoulders of young asses,
And their treasures on the humps of camels,
To a people who will not profit.
For Egypt helps in vain and to no purpose.
Therefore have I called her,
Rahab who sits still.’
This is a word heavy with sarcasm. Isaiah declares himself to be burdened over the asses and camels that have to carry the heavy burden of the gifts sent by Hezekiah to Egypt, foreseeing judgment on them because of the task they carry out. The judgment will really be on their owners. They are being taken through the Negeb, a place full of wild and dangerous beasts, possibly in order to avoid the easy route along the coast lest news of their journey gets out. The caravan is doing exactly the same in the opposite direction as Israel did when they came out of Egypt at the Exodus, avoiding the trade route, presumably for the sake of secrecy. This is probably intended to be seen as significant. Israel are retracing their steps towards their previous tormentors instead of trusting in Yahweh.
They bear gifts to Egypt in order to prepare the way for their discussions on the Assyrian question. But they are here warned that they will gain no benefit from it, because Egypt’s aid will be in vain (as it did indeed prove to be).
‘The land of trouble and anguish.’ That is, the wilderness where all kinds of problem can be encountered, from heat and lack of water, to fierce and dangerous wild animals and rough terrain. ‘The south’ was the description often used for the Negeb, the semi-desert land on the south of Palestine, and stretching into the desert.
‘Therefore have I called her, Rahab who sits still.’ Rahab was a mythical monster whose name was applied in black humour to Egypt (see Psalms 87:4). Here the mockery is increased by calling her ‘the great monster who sits about and does nothing’, depicting the half-hearted attempts that Egypt will make to fulfil her part in the alliance. Hezekiah’s men have braved the creatures of the desert in order to get this monster on their side, and all it does is sit still.
‘The fiery flying serpent.’ Possibly the action of the particular snake as it lunged and struck gave the impression that it was flying so that it gained this nickname.
Their Trust in Other Than Yahweh And Their Tantamount Rejection of Him Can Only Result in Disaster. Security Rests in Trusting in Yahweh (Isaiah 30:8-18 ).
Isaiah is to write his words down as a testimony to the future, because at present men will not listen. They deliberately close their eyes and refuse to hear His word, and by doing so are bringing on themselves trouble and disaster, rejecting His call to them to trust Him and have confidence in Him. And yet even now Yahweh is waiting to bless them and will yet have mercy on them, and all who do put their trust in Him can be sure that they will be blessed.
a Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come, for ever and ever (Isaiah 30:8).
b For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of Yahweh, who say to the seers, “See not”, and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things, speak to us smooth things. Prophesy lies. Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path. Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (Isaiah 30:9-11).
c For this reason thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and rely on them (Isaiah 30:12).
d Therefore this iniquity will be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, the breaking of which comes suddenly in an instant (Isaiah 30:13).
d And he will break it like a potter’s vessel is broken, breaking it in pieces without sparing, so that there will not be found among its pieces, a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water with it out of the cistern” (Isaiah 30:14).
c For thus says the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you will be saved. In quietness and confidence will be your strength”, and you would not’ (Isaiah 30:15).
b But you said, “No, but we will flee on horses”. Therefore you will flee. And “we will ride on the swift ones”. Therefore those who pursue you will be swift. One thousand will flee at the rebuke of one. At the rebuke of five you will flee. Until you are left as a beacon on the top of a mountain, and as a banner on a hill (Isaiah 30:16-17).
a And therefore will Yahweh wait, that He may be gracious to you, and therefore will He be raised (exalted), that He may have mercy on you. For Yahweh is a God of judgment (one who makes good judgments). Blessed are all those who wait for him (Isaiah 30:18).
In ‘a’ Isaiah is to write before them on a tablet, and inscribe in a book, what he has prophesied, so that it may be for the time to come, for ever and ever, for in the parallel Yahweh is waiting to be gracious to them, and will be raised that He might have mercy on them, for He acts wisely and blesses those who wait for Him. In ‘b’ they do not want to hear His words, nor do they want His interference, and in the parallel they assert their preferred response which is to trust in horses. In ‘c’ the Holy One of Israel speaks of their ‘despising this word, and trusting in oppression and perverseness, and relying on them’, and in parallel the Holy One of Israel calls on them rather to ‘return and rest’ and ‘be quiet and confident’ for in this they would be saved, an offer they refused. In ‘d’ their iniquity will be to them like a collapsing wall, and in the parallel like the breaking of a potter’s vessel.
‘Now go, write it before them on a tablet,
And inscribe it in a book,
That it may be for the time to come,
For ever and ever.
For it is a rebellious people,
Children who will not hear the law of Yahweh,
Who say to the seers, “See not”,
And to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things,
Speak to us smooth things. Prophesy lies.
Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path.
Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.”
Isaiah is told to write down his prophecies so that future generations would know what God had said to His people. For the people were in a state where they did not want to hear God’s Law and wanted seers and prophets who would say what they wanted to hear, while God wanted His own acts to be judged in the light of the truth and of what He had promised.
‘Write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book.’ The writing on the wooden writing tablet would be for display as a public record (compare Isaiah 8:1). It was to be placed where all could see it, ‘before them’. It probably especially refers to Isaiah 30:6-7 or Isaiah 30:9-15. The inscribing in the papyrus or leather scroll was for future use and would include wider prophecies as a permanent record of what Isaiah had proclaimed. Both commands show the importance laid on prophecy being written down.
‘For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of Yahweh, who say to the seers, “See not”, and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things, speak to us smooth things. Prophesy lies (‘illusions’). Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path. Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.’ This is God’s verdict on Judah. They were rebellious, rejecting trust in Yahweh. They were deceitful because they pretended to be His children but did not behave like it (compare Isaiah 1:2). They made subtle, lying excuses for their behaviour and made a feigned submission to Yahweh that was not genuine. For they were children who did not want to listen to authority. Above all they did not want to listen to the Instruction of Yahweh (God’s Law in Scripture). They wanted to avoid the impact of the word of God and its demands on their lives.
Thus they asked their teachers and preachers to tell them what they wanted to hear, and to avoid telling them the truth. They did not want them to receive a word from God. They preferred, and demanded, smooth preaching which would not ruffle their consciences (compare Amos 2:12; Micah 2:6) and to be told illusions that would make them happy (such as how good it was to trust in safe, reliable Egypt). They did not want to be told the truth.
They especially did not want to be faced up to the Holy One of Israel with His strong requirements and absolute morality. Those were out-of-date concepts suitable only for wilderness existence. Yahweh was old-fashioned. What they wanted was more modern preaching for a different age, that did not lay an emphasis on divine imperatives. (They would of course have put all this more delicately, but that was what they really wanted). So they were basically telling their teachers to go astray, and to leave the way and path of Yahweh because it was too demanding.
Today so many are guilty of the same thing. They want the security of being Christ’s but they do not want the transformation that goes with it. They think, as Israel did in Isaiah’s day, that they can have the one without the other. But we cannot be His without beginning the process of being like Him. For God will not allow it. ‘Whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives, -- but if you are without chastening, of which all are made partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons’ (Hebrews 12:6-8).
‘For this reason thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word,
And trust in oppression and perverseness,
And rely on them,
Therefore this iniquity will be to you as a breach ready to fall,
Swelling out in a high wall,
The breaking of which comes suddenly in an instant.
And he will break it like a potter’s vessel is broken,
Breaking it in pieces without sparing,
So that there will not be found among its pieces,
A sherd to take fire from the hearth,
Or to take water with it out of the cistern.” ’
But the Holy One of Israel cannot be so avoided and He speaks back directly to them. So they despise His word? They prefer to oppress people, bringing pressure on them to do what they want, and to behave perversely, following their own ways, their ‘new morality’? Indeed they trust and rely on these things. Well, let them consider what the consequences of this will be. Despising His word is like having a high wall which has not been properly built and has become unstable, suddenly beginning to bulge out and then collapsing violently. It will be like a potter’s vessel which has gone wrong in the making and is therefore deliberately smashed to pieces by the potter. And the pieces will be so small that they cannot be used for anything, not even for carrying out the most basic and simple tasks such as poking the fire or ladling up water. (A sherd was a fair sized piece of broken pottery). They will be useless.
Note the two aspects of the stated consequences. The wall collapses because it has been badly built, it has relied on man’s unreliable craftsmanship, it is unstable, just as their moral choices are unstable in themselves. Man’s wisdom always fails in the end because it results from not seeing the whole picture. How regularly man’s relieving of restrictions and his establishing of his ‘freedoms’ result in unseen consequences that result in suffering for all. The vessel smashes because it is smashed by the Potter, and the reason is that he is not satisfied with it. So will God act against those who despise His instruction, His Law, because He is not satisfied with how they have turned out.
The breach in the wall and its being in danger of collapse may well have in mind despoliation by an enemy as they see their walls collapse under his attack, and the smashing to pieces could signify the result of such invasion as their city is ransacked.
‘For thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you will be saved.
In quietness and confidence will be your strength”,
And you would not.’
These, he stresses, are the words of the same Holy One of Israel Whom they have rejected. This is His alternative approach. This is where they could find security and strength. If they return to Him and trust Him they will be saved. Their deliverance is dependent not on Egypt or any other outside assistance, but on returning to Yahweh, a positive putting aside of sin and disobedience and a renewal of their covenant with God resulting in responsive obedience, accompanied by a trusting in Him and a resting on His reliability. But they ‘would not’. They made their choice and were not interested. They preferred lying words, despising Yahweh’s word and trusting in oppression and perverseness, living harshly and behaving intolerably.
But they would indeed remember this when they later stood within Jerusalem, looking out over the walls and seeing the vast hordes of the enemy that had approached again and had made encampment after the defeat of the Egyptian army. Then they would have only one last place to look, to Yahweh. And this time when they cried to Him He forgave them and acted for them. But only after they had learned a bitter lesson through much suffering. For even though Jerusalem was delivered from the worst, the surrounding region was not.
But we must remember that a century later in time the same thing would happen and they would cry and would not be forgiven. Then it would be too late, they would have gone too far, and the city would be taken, and the people would go into exile. We must recognise that we cannot presume on God’s mercy for ever. There are limits even to that.
‘In quietness and confidence will be your strength” The only real solution to a satisfying and inwardly secure life is quiet confidence in and trust in Yahweh, with its resulting obedience to His word. Then a man can be strong whatever comes because he knows that Yahweh is with him to act for him and with him. The implication is that had the quietness and confidence of Judah been in Yahweh by an obedient and responsive people, they would not have needed to creep secretly off to Egypt. Nor would they later have been besieged.
The question for each of us is the same, what is our Egypt? What are we leaning on rather than leaning on God?
‘But you said, “No, but we will flee on horses”.
Therefore you will flee.
And “we will ride on the swift ones”.
Therefore those who pursue you will be swift.
One thousand will flee at the rebuke of one.
At the rebuke of five you will flee.
Until you are left as a beacon on the top of a mountain,
And as a banner on a hill.’
This probably reflects the confident humour, or arrogant self-confidence, with which Isaiah’s pleas for trust in Yahweh had been met. ‘We are not worried, we will flee on horses. Our horses are like racehorses,’ while confident that they would not have to flee at all. So Isaiah assures them that what they have suggested is what will indeed happen. But then they will find that their enemy have super-racehorses and will overtake them.
Indeed their enemies will be so mighty that all that they will need to defeat a regiment will be one man, and five will defeat the whole army. A ‘five’ was possibly the smallest known military unit at the time, or may mean a handful.
‘Until you are left as a beacon on the top of a mountain, and as a banner on a hill.’ This probably refers to a last stand made by a defeated force, when they have rallied on a convenient mountain or hill and raised their banner or sent out their distress signals (compare Judges 20:47). And when finally routed all that remains are the traces of the beacon fire, or a solitary, ragged banner blowing in the wind.
‘And therefore will Yahweh wait, that he may be gracious to you,
And therefore will he be raised (exalted), that he may have mercy on you.
For Yahweh is a God of judgment (one who makes good judgments).
Blessed are all those who wait for him.’
In Isaiah 30:15 God had stressed that they must return to Him and rest in Him quietly and confidently, but they had declined His offer in favour of their own self-sufficiency. So now we learn of the patience of God. He is prepared to wait. We should never cease to be amazed at God’s capacity to wait, even though one day it will come to an end. But it is not a waiting of inactivity. During it He brings men into situations in which their minds are forced to consider Him, as He will with Judah. And then He looks for their response.
He commences with two ‘therefores’. In Isaiah 30:16 they had learned that because of their trust in their own abilities ‘therefore’ they would flee and ‘therefore’ those who pursued them would be swift. Now He stresses that ‘therefore’ also He will wait, allowing what is to happen to happen, so that they might learn their insufficiency, and then, when they finally do seek Him, He can be gracious to them, revealing His undeserved love, and ‘therefore’ He will finally act on their behalf, He will rise (or ‘be exalted’) in order to reveal to them His mercy and compassion. The latter may refer to what He is about to do in sending His angel to bring relief from the siege of Jerusalem, which will truly exalt His name.
For He is too wise to react hastily. He is a God Who makes sound judgments, and acts in grace. And He will, despite all, wait patiently and then work on behalf of His own. Thus those who wait for Him will be blessed, and others will be blessed along with them. But it was not something to presume on, for many would perish before that time came.
For God’s Final Purpose is To Bless His True People Who Will Remain After His Chastisement and Purification, And To Defeat Their Enemies Himself (Isaiah 30:19-33 ).
While the future holds adversity for them, His final purpose is to bless those who are His true people. In the case of those who will hear His voice, He will be there to guide them. And once they have learned their lesson through their sufferings then they will enjoy great prosperity.
a O people who dwell in Zion at Jerusalem, you will weep no more. (Or, ‘the people who dwell in Zion will weep no more’). He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. When He will hear He will answer you (Isaiah 30:19).
b And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet will not your Teacher be hidden any more, but your eyes will see your Teacher, and your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right hand and when you turn to the left (Isaiah 30:20-21).
c And you will defile the overlaying of your graven images of silver, and the plating of your molten images of gold. You will cast them away as an unclean thing. You will say to each one, “Leave us” (Isaiah 30:22).
d And he will give the rain of your seed, that you sow the ground with it
d And bread of the increase of the ground, and it will be fat and plentiful (Isaiah 30:23 a).
c In that day your cattle will feed in large pastures. Similarly the oxen and the young asses which till the ground, they will eat salted provender, which has been winnowed with the fork and with the fan (Isaiah 30:23-24).
b And on every lofty mountain and on every high hill there will be rivers and streams of waters, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall (Isaiah 30:25).
a What is more the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that Yahweh binds up the hurt of his people, and heals the stroke of their wound (Isaiah 30:26).
In ‘a’ the promise is that one day His people will weep no more because He will hear their cry and be gracious to them, and in the parallel all their benefits will be enhanced in the day when He acts to heal them. In ‘b’ although they must suffer adversity and affliction they can be sure that they will hear His voice leading and guiding them in the right way, and in the parallel there will be rivers of waters on the hills, even though there is great slaughter and the towers fall. In ‘c’ when they get rid of their idols and destroy them, in the parallel they will prosper and enjoy prosperity. In ‘d’ He will feed their sown seed with rain, and in the parallel this will result in abundance of provision.
‘O people who dwell in Zion at Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. When he will hear he will answer you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet will not your Teacher be hidden any more, but your eyes will see your Teacher, and your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right hand and when you turn to the left.’
In typical fashion Isaiah now promises hope, because it is finally God’s purpose to bless those of His people whom He preserves. His words are addressed to those in Zion, at Jerusalem. It is true that they must first face the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, that is, that adversity and affliction will for a time be their staple diet in days to come, but there will come a day when weeping is no more. The present is bleak because of their sin, but the future is bright because of God’s sovereign mercy (but only for those who survive).
For when they do call on Him in genuine repentance and seek His face, when they ‘cry’ to Him, then He will hear and answer them. Then they will know Him as their Teacher, who will not be hidden from them any more (contrast Isaiah 29:11-12). Their eyes will see Him and their ears will hear Him. And when they begin to stray the voice of their Teacher will speak to them, saying, “This is the way. Walk in it”.’
The picture is of a Guide, who when the caravan he is leading takes the wrong road because he has gone ahead to scout, calls after them, ‘this is the way, walk in it’.
‘Your eyes will see your Teacher.’ Isaiah here probably means acknowledge and recognise, but it was to receive a greater fulfilment than Isaiah probably intended, when the Counsellor Himself walked and taught in Palestine and men saw Him with their own eyes, and they could say, ‘we beheld His glory’ (John 1:14).
It may, however, be that he did here have ‘the Counsellor’ in mind (Isaiah 9:6), and that the reference here is to the coming Immanuel, Who is later spoken of in this way (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:2; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 50:4; Isaiah 61:1-2).
So God promises that one day there will be a Teacher in response to their prayers (whether God or Immanuel), a Teacher Who will care for them and be available to them and lead them in the right way (compare Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 28:6; Isaiah 28:26; Psalms 25:8; Psalms 94:10; Psalms 94:12). A Teacher whose concern for them will be such that He is ever watchful of their spiritual welfare, bringing to them His Law and guiding them by it (Isaiah 2:3).
Note again the near and far view. Jerusalem would be delivered in the near future, and the deliverance would certainly have a spiritual impact, but the greater impact awaited another day when God would act in a more wonderful way to finalise His work, because their response of faith would be insufficient.
‘And you will defile the overlaying of your graven images of silver,
And the plating of your molten images of gold.
You will cast them away as an unclean thing.
You will say to each one, “Leave us”.’
One sign of their reformation will be that they will rid themselves of their idols made of wood, and covered with precious metals. They will first denude them of their silver and gold, and then throw them away, declaring their intention to be rid of them, and that they want no more of them, demanding that they go on their way and leave them.
It is noteworthy that the final result of exile and the suffering that they subsequently endured was that Israel did finally finish with idolatry. From then on it became anathema to them. So fulfilment was both near and far. Isaiah foresaw what would happen, but he was not aware of the timetable.
‘And he will give the rain of your seed,
That you sow the ground with it,
And bread of the increase of the ground,
And it will be fat and plentiful.
In that day your cattle will feed in large pastures.
Similarly the oxen and the young asses which till the ground,
They will eat salted provender,
Which has been winnowed with the fork and with the fan.’
Then instead of the bread of affliction and the water of adversity, they will enjoy rain from heaven enabling them to sow their seed with certainty, and sufficient harvest that they have plentiful soft bread. The cattle will enjoy pasturage in large fields, the oxen and the young asses will eat well-flavoured provender, which has been thoroughly sifted and fanned (contrast Isaiah 30:6-7). The latter has in mind that when grain is short it is better not to remove too much of the chaff in order that the food may appear more plentiful, but now there is so much that it can be well sifted. The contrast demonstrates that the emphasis is not on the detail, but its significance. Instead of affliction will come freedom and joy; instead of adversity will come peace and blessing.
As so often the fulfilment is greater than the promise. Days did come in their future prior to the time of Jesus when Jerusalem enjoyed the physical blessings promised. Times became prosperous. But the greater fulfilment lay in Him Who was the bread (John 6:35; John 6:51) and water of life (John 4:14; John 7:37-38), which was to be enjoyed while His people were on earth and will be enjoyed even more abundantly, without the weeping (Isaiah 30:19), in eternity, when the curse will be no more (Revelation 21:4; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:1-3). Then life will flourish beyond all understanding.
To an agricultural community the greatest blessings conceivable were plentiful rain, fruitful harvests, and large pasturage, and that is why their future was pictured in these terms. The curse would be lifted, the blessings of Eden would return. That is why their everlasting future is depicted in those terms. They were terms that they understood. They indicated that the curse of Eden will have been removed and that Paradise will have come. John in Revelation would later depict the same future in terms of a city made of gold and precious jewels, and of a river of life surrounded by fruitful trees. None are finally to be pressed literally.
(If you were to go among a remote Eskimo group that had no conception of a life beyond the grave or of advanced spiritual concepts, how would you present Heaven to them? Would it not be in terms of plentiful extra fat seals, bigger igloos and larger holes in the ice? So it was here, but in different terms. It is ever so. God can only speak to us through pictures, and that is equally true even in our modern age).
‘And on every lofty mountain and on every high hill there will be rivers and streams of waters, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.’
This verse brings out the parabolic nature of the prophetic words. All the mountains will run with streams of water! (Compare Isaiah 33:21). Canaan was a land which depended on rain and not on mighty rivers, and so blessing is pictured in those terms. So on the one hand for the people of God who trust in Him the mountains and hills will run with water, a sign of fruitfulness and plenty, while on the other for God’s enemies there will be great slaughter and the destruction of their strongholds (compare Isaiah 25:2; Isaiah 32:19). It will thus be a time of judgment and of separation. On the one hand those deemed righteous will enjoy life-giving water, on the other those deemed unrighteous will face destruction and ‘the great slaughter’.
‘What is more the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that Yahweh binds up the hurt of his people, and heals the stroke of their wound.’
In the day spoken of the whole of nature will be abounding. The moon will shine like the sun (compare Revelation 21:26) and the sun will have sevenfold brightness, sufficient sun in one day for seven days. That man could not naturally survive in these conditions is apparent, but that is not the point. The point is to indicate that man’s blessings and provision will increase ‘sevenfold’, that is, will increase in terms of divine perfection. We are not here speaking of literal happenings but of a heavenly kingdom spoken of in earthly terms when all will be magnified and far more wonderful than we can ever imagine.
‘In the day that Yahweh binds up the hurt of His people, and heals the stroke of their wound.’ That is, when the everlasting kingdom begins and all is made well (contrast Isaiah 30:20; Isaiah 1:5-6). In New Testament terms it is the day of the Parousia, the day when Christ Jesus takes up His own to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). This day is in contrast with the day of great slaughter in Isaiah 30:25. His people will come out of that time of distress, to healing and restoration. And yet for His true people it begins here and now, for ‘out of the innermost beings will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:37-39), while the healing of the wounds is carried out by the Great Physician in all who trust in Him (Mark 2:17).
The Destruction of Assyria (Isaiah 30:27-33 ).
However, although there will be no help for them in Egypt, they will be delivered, for God Himself will act to deliver them. For the remnant who come through the fire, those who have sought refuge on God’s mountain, the true believers, there will be mercy, because God will act for them and sweep away the enemy.
This passage opens with ‘the name of Yahweh’ being revealed in judgment and fire, and closes with ‘the breath of Yahweh’ expressing itself in judgment, as the enemy are offered up like a sacrifice to a heathen god. His name represents His greatness and glory, His breath His powerful judgment. It describes the dreadfulness of Yahweh’s judgment on Assyria.
a Behold the name of Yahweh comes from far, burning with his anger and in thick rising smoke. His lips are full of indignation, and His tongue is as a devouring fire, and his breath is as an overflowing stream, that reaches even to the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of worthlessness, and a bridle that causes to err will be in the jaws of the peoples (Isaiah 30:27-28).
b You will have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart as when one goes with a pipe to come to the mountain of Yahweh, to the Rock of Israel (Isaiah 30:29).
c And Yahweh will cause His glorious voice to be heard, and will show the descending blow of His arm in the indignation of His anger, and the flame of a devouring fire with the crashing of a storm, and tempest and hailstones (Isaiah 30:30).
c For through the voice of Yahweh will the Assyrian be broken in pieces, who smote with a rod (or ‘whom he smote with a rod’) (Isaiah 30:31).
b And every stroke of the appointed staff that Yahweh will lay on him will be with tambourines and harps, and He will fight with them in battles of shaking (Isaiah 30:32).
a For a Topheth is prepared of old, yes, it is made ready for the king. He has made it deep and large. Its pile is fire and much wood. The breath of Yahweh like a stream of brimstone kindles it (Isaiah 30:33).
In ‘a’ Yahweh will come burning with anger in thick smoke, His breath like an everflowing stream which reaches to the neck, to sift the nations, and in the parallel He has prepared for a sacrifice on piles of fire, and His breath is like a stream of brimstone which kindles it. In ‘b’ they will have a song and gladness of heart as they rest on the Rock of Israel, and in the parallel they will have tambourines and harp as the enemy are defeated by Yahweh. In ‘c’ Yahweh will reveal His effective power, and in the parallel will break the Assyrian in pieces.
‘Behold the name of Yahweh comes from far,
Burning with his anger and in thick rising smoke.
His lips are full of indignation,
And his tongue is as a devouring fire,
And his breath is as an overflowing stream,
That reaches even to the neck,
To sift the nations with the sieve of worthlessness,
And a bridle that causes to err will be in the jaws of the peoples.’
The approach of the name of Yahweh demonstrates that He has come for vindication, to establish His name and reputation. Assyria, His rod, has thwarted His will and gone beyond its remit (Isaiah 10:6-7; Isaiah 10:12-15). Now Yahweh comes to make matters right. For anger combined with thick rising smoke compare Genesis 19:28 of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (compare Isaiah 13:19 of the judgment on Babylon). Also see Exodus 19:18. For devouring fire compare Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 33:14; Exodus 24:17. The thick rising smoke emphasises the burning nature of His anger. It is all consuming. Whenever people saw thick rising smoke in the distance they knew that it was always ominous, and that destruction accompanied it.
Thus we have here the God of Sinai, the God of the covenant, the Great Deliverer, appearing to exercise His wrath. He ‘comes from far’ for He has been standing back, out of this world, allowing events to go forward, but now He can stand by no longer. He burns with anger, His lips flow with indignation, His tongue is like a devouring fire, His breath (or wind) like a devastating flood that reaches even to the neck (compare Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 11:4), because of the treatment meted out to His people. (Isaiah’s purpose is to bring out Yahweh’s depth of feeling for His people). He has come to sieve their oppressors in ‘the sieve of worthlessness’ which will analyse and reveal what they are, revealing their worthlessness and futility, and to lead them into disaster with a bridle that causes to err, to go astray. They are still under His control, no longer as the rod of His anger, but now as the butt of His anger. They have overstepped the mark. And He will work His will on them.
The idea of the flood to the neck, which is recompensing Assyria’s earlier behaviour (see Isaiah 8:8), while stressing its depth, may be to give an assurance that it will not be like the flood in the time of Noah, all consuming. While it will be severe judgment, it will not be final.
‘You will have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart as when one goes with a pipe to come to the mountain of Yahweh, to the Rock of Israel.’
Israel/Judah on the other hand will rejoice because their enemy are being dealt with. As they watch over the walls in amazement they will see large numbers of dead men being carried from their tents and piled up, and will recognise that it can only mean the cessation of the siege. The previous day the camp had been vibrant with hostility and purpose. Now it was a graveyard. Yahweh has visited their enemies. Assyria and its allies have suffered a cruel blow from which they cannot recover.
The watchers will thus sing as they would by night at a holy feast, possibly especially at Passover, the feast of deliverance, which was specifically celebrated at night, with spontaneous delight and a sense of release. But the emphasis here is on the fact that it will be spontaneous worship, not the result of a specific feast but of a unique event that has brought them special joy, just as the original Passover did. They will be as they would when they play their pipes and ascend the mountain of Yahweh, the Rock of Israel, full of gladness and rejoicing in Him. The name ‘Rock of Israel’ confirms the solidity of their foundations (compare Isaiah 26:4). They have found Him to be so and have cause to rejoice.
‘And Yahweh will cause his glorious voice to be heard, and will show the descending blow of his arm in the indignation of his anger, and the flame of a devouring fire with the crashing of a storm, and tempest and hailstones. For through the voice of Yahweh will the Assyrian be broken in pieces, who smote with a rod (or ‘whom he smote with a rod’).’
For Yahweh will have spoken with a majestic and glorious voice by His act of power in destroying the Assyrian army. His mighty arm will have descended revealing His fierce anger against their sin, His devouring fire will have done its work like thunderbolts and forked lightning in a mighty storm. This need not signify a literal storm. It is a picture of the invisible power of Yahweh at work, bringing about the havoc that such a storm causes. For Yahweh will have decimated the Assyrians with one mighty blow.
‘Who smote with a rod (or ‘whom he smote with a rod’).’ This refers to the fact that what Assyria had initially done to the cities of Judah was as Yahweh’s rod (compare Isaiah 10:5). But now the rod itself will be punished and destroyed because it went far beyond Yahweh’s remit. For Assyria had not knowingly acted as Yahweh’s rod, they had acted as they did because they were greedy, rapacious and bloodthirsty, and even while ‘controlled’ they had been uncontrolled. Alternately it could refer to the smiting with a rod by Yahweh of the Assyrian army. Either way it is a reminder that Assyria is receiving what it sowed.
‘And every stroke of the appointed staff that Yahweh will lay on him will be with tambourines and harps, and he will fight with them in battles of shaking. For a Topheth is prepared of old, yes, it is made ready for the king. He has made it deep and large. Its pile is fire and much wood. The breath of Yahweh like a stream of brimstone kindles it.’
Yahweh in turn has appointed a staff with which to smite His people’s enemies, and every stroke it makes results in music of rejoicing from the besieged. Note how the music here parallels Isaiah 30:29. Only those who have been under siege in a walled city with a cruel enemy surrounding, awaiting what seems to be the inevitable cruel end for themselves, their wives and their children, can appreciate the exaltation when the siege is unexpectedly lifted by the defeat of the enemy, and the wild expression of release in the playing of every instrument to hand and the singing of songs of deliverance.
In divine contrast with the tambourines and harps is Yahweh fighting for them in ‘battles of shaking.’ Compare Isaiah 19:16. ‘Battles’ is probably a plural of intensity. It is the mother of all battles. The reference would appear to be to the hand of Yahweh shaking (or ‘waving’) with expressed power over them in battle, which will cause their enemies also to shake, but with fear. It may even also be a deliberate comparison with the people’s shaking of their tambourines. As they shake their tambourines He will be shaking the enemy. Also included may be a reference to the shaking that resulted from the fever with which Yahweh possibly smote the Assyrian army. The phrase may signify ‘an intensive battle (plural of intensity) which results in shaking’.
But all the while from the battlements of Jerusalem will be heard the tambourines and the harps as they give glory for their deliverance. We have here a wonderful illustration of what it means to ‘stand still and see the salvation of God’ (Exodus 14:13), when God does it all and His people watch in rejoicing.
‘For a Topheth is prepared of old.’ Topheth probably means ‘abominable fireplace’. The root tpt relates to the Aramaic and Arabic for fireplace, with the vowels of bosheth (‘shame’) applied to it. It was the name given to a high place in the Valley of Hinnom where children were passed through the fire to Melech (‘King’ - from which comes Molech - using the vowels of bosheth to denote shame). It is thus a place of burning which is shameful, and thus suitable for this idolatrous king and his arrogant pride. God has made it deep and large, sufficient for its purpose. He has piled it high with burning wood, and His breath kindles it like a stream of brimstone, a stream of burning sulphur. Destructive fire is often spoken of in terms of brimstone.
The whole picture is demonstrating the awful end of the king and his armies at the hand of Yahweh, as though they were being burned in a fire as a heathen sacrifice to the gods. All are doomed.
Such passages remind us of the holiness of God. They remind us that He is not to be treated lightly. That He is the Holy One. That His fury at sin results in judgment. But they also indicate that He will protect His own when they look to Him. Then we will have cause for singing when we enjoy His deliverance.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 30". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany