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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 31


The prophet sheweth the extreme folly of trusting to Egypt, and forsaking God: he exhorteth to conversion: he sheweth the fall of Assyria.

Before Christ 713.

THIS and the following chapter, which are very improperly divided in our English Bible, contain the second part of the third section of this discourse, and are nearly of the same argument with that preceding. They may be properly divided into two reproofs, to which are added consolatory promises. The first reproof respects the Ephraimites, and contains a minatory proposition concerning the folly of seeking aid from Egypt; Isa 31:1 and the reasons of that proposition: first, from the comparison of the divine perfection, power, wisdom, with the similar attributes of the Egyptians: Isaiah 31:2-3. Secondly, by opposition, that is, from the effect of placing confidence in God, a remarkable example whereof should be given in the singular defence and protection which God would procure for the Jews, reduced by the Assyrians to great straits; which benefit is described, Isa 31:4-5 with its adjuncts, particularly repentance, Isa 31:6-7 the fall of the Assyrian, Isa 31:8-9 and its consequence,—the just and glorious reign of a pious king, chap. Isa 32:1-2 and the conversion of many from inconsideration and wickedness to a serious regard for the ways and works of God: Isaiah 32:3-8. The second reproof, with the consolation, is also two-fold. The reproof consists of two articles, prophetically denouncing a double calamity: the first, that Assyrian calamity, Isa 32:9-10 the second the Babylonish, Isaiah 32:11-14. The consolatory part exhibits various blessings to be conferred upon the church after the affliction of those times; among which the radical and causal one is the effusion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah 32:15. Its consequences, the conversion of the Gentiles:—middle of Isaiah 32:15-16. Spiritual righteousness and peace: Isaiah 32:17. The security of the church under the divine protection:—middle of Isaiah 32:17-18. The judgments of God upon the enemies of the church: Isa 32:19 and the care of the rulers and teachers of the people of God, in diligently promoting the work of grace: Isaiah 32:20.

Verse 2

Isaiah 31:2. Yet he also is wise There are two things which those who placed their confidence in Egypt peculiarly extolled in the Egyptians; namely, their wisdom and strength; particularly the strength of their cavalry. The prophet, comparing the Egyptians in each respect with God, beats down the vanity of their carnal confidence; for, though the Egyptians were wise and powerful, yet he acquaints them that God was more wise and more powerful, who could never want understanding to conceive the most proper means, nor power to carry those means into execution. The prophet makes use of the figure called meiosis, expressing much less than is meant, when speaking of God he says, Yet he also is wise; and in the third verse, though he denies not the strength of the Egyptians, yet he sets forth the imbecility of that strength when compared with God.

Verse 4

Isaiah 31:4. For thus hath the Lord spoken unto me, &c.— For thus hath Jehovah spoken by me, &c. Isaiah 31:5. As birds hovering [over their young], so will the Lord of Hosts defend Jerusalem, defending and delivering it, protecting and rescuing it. Men of a carnal worldly mind, who understood not the secret ways of God, often inferred against his promises delivered by the prophets, that, in certain cases, they waited in vain for the divine help: groaning under the Assyrian yoke, they had not experienced the present aid of God, no more than in many of their wars against the Syrians. Reason, therefore, required that they should seek their aid from more powerful people; in which pretence they dissembled the truth, which was, that they were wanting to God, not God to them; as they proudly rejected that condition of repentance and faith which the prophets joined to all their promises of grace. But that Isaiah might entirely beat down this exception, he here places before their eyes an example of the defence and deliverance which God would undoubtedly perform for his people in Sion, publicly to shew that neither power nor affection was wanting in God to protect those who truly repented and trusted only in him. This he illustrates by two similes: the first referring to strength and undaunted resolution, taken from a lion roaring over his prey, and unappalled by any opposition: so, he says, would God fight for mount Sion, and for the hill thereof; that is to say, for Moriah, upon which the temple was built. The other simile refers to his affection and care, and is taken from the care, solicitude, and affection of birds defending their young. The meaning of it is, that God would not only protect his people, as birds do their young by brooding over them, but also would keep them free from all danger, would deliver and avenge them; which is more than birds are able to perform. There is no need to refer to the history, as it has been done so often already. See Vitringa.

Verses 6-7

Isaiah 31:6-7. Turn ye unto him This address of the prophet to the Jews is both monitory of the duty, without which this divine benefit of protection and deliverance would not be conferred, and prophetical, wherein he teaches, that God would offer to them, and that they would as a nation at that time receive the grace of repentance from idolatry, that they might obtain this blessing agreeably to the laws of divine Providence and grace. The admonition immediately respects the Jews, in opposition to the Ephraimites, strictly called the children of Israel; and the sense is this: "When, therefore, God shall grant unto you, Jews, the inhabitants of Sion and Jerusalem, the hope of so great a benefit, that he will protect you by his own right hand against the Assyrians, (which the prophet foretold should come to pass;) then turn you in true repentance unto him, from whom the Ephraimites, seeking help from Egypt, in contempt and neglect of his aid, have most deeply revolted; and place your confidence not in the Egyptians, but in Jehovah himself; which the Ephraimites have neglected to do. Nay, the more grievously they have sinned, and the further they have departed from God, so much the more sincerely do you repent, and unite yourselves the more closely to him." The prophet immediately adds, that this admonition should have its effect, and that the Jews, reduced to straits by the Assyrians, should cast away their domestic idols; and of course should cease to place any confidence in them; returning to their God, and trusting only in him. See Vitringa.

Verses 8-9

Isaiah 31:8-9. Then shall the Assyrian fall The history of the Assyrian overthrow fully explains these verses. The meaning of the phrase, His young men shall be discomfited, is, that those of Sennacherib's soldiers who should escape in flight, should melt through fear in the way, and should be so dispersed and so distressed, that the greater part of them should perish. The first clause of the ninth verse should be read, And he shall pass by his strong-hold in a fright; that is, "Sennacherib shall be struck with so great fear, on account of the slaughter inflicted upon his army by God, and the report of the approach of Tirhakah, chap. Isa 37:9 that he shall in his flight pass by his fortifications in the borders of his empire, as not daring to trust himself to them:" And his princes shall be afraid of an ensign; that is, "They shall be seized with such terror, that every ensign of war lifted up, shall cause consternation and fear to them." The latter clause refers to the perpetual fire which was kept up in the temple, which was a symbol of the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in the hearts of believers, and also of the holy and pure will of God, whereby every sacrifice offered to him was to be approved. See Vitringa.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Repeated woes are denounced to awaken the sinners in Zion; if still they persist in their wicked way, surely their blood will be on their own heads.

1. The charge laid against them, is their recourse to Egypt, and neglect of God. The numerous hosts of Pharaoh, his chariots and horsemen, seemed to afford greater security to the eye of sense than the word of promise; and therefore they are more solicitous to engage his friendship, than to spread their case before the Holy One of Israel. Note; They who consult with sense, take a bad guide.

2. The folly and danger of their conduct are exposed. If they wanted wisdom, lo! God is all wise, and they should consult him: if they wanted might, God was almighty, and could protect them; but when he was slighted and neglected, his wisdom and power, which might have been engaged for them, were armed against them: and what then can the wisdom or power of Egypt do to save them? he will counteract all the schemes of their allies, and execute the threatening, that he hath pronounced against the workers of iniquity; and, by sad experience, they shall be taught the vanity of that strength of Pharaoh, which they idolized. The Egyptians shall be found men, frail, false, foolish, and not God, as they, by their confidence in them, seemed to make them, and their horses flesh and not spirit; and, therefore, when the Lord should stretch forth his hand, they and their unprofitable helpers would fall together. Note; (1.) They who affect to be wiser than their Bibles, will only in the end expose their own folly. (2.) The more we know of men, the more we shall see cause to cease from human dependance; the more we know of God, the more shall we be engaged to trust him. (3.) There are many truths evident and allowed by all, and yet, in practice, we are apt glaringly to contradict them. (4.) The sinner in the day of wrath shall find little comfort or help in his companion, when they shall fall together, and receive the reward of their iniquities.

3. Those in Zion, who, without having recourse to Egypt, trusted God for their safety should find him a sure refuge in the day of calamity: as a lion seizing his prey, who cannot be intimidated by the shouting of the shepherds, who, daring not to approach him, seek to fright him with their noise; so impotent will be the army of the Assyrians, when the lion of the tribe of Judah shall come to light for his Zion: swift as the eagle will he fly to their succour, and safe preserve them, when the destroying angel shall pass over to smite their enemies, and by their destruction deliver Jerusalem. Note; In the midst of danger they are safe whom God with tenderness unutterable covers under his wings as a hen gathereth her chickens, and defends with an arm of almighty and irresistible power. Oh, that we did but trust him!

2nd, We have,
1. A gracious call to repentance. God had not utterly cast them off, though they had barely forsaken him, and deeply revolted from him: he calls them children of Israel as a reproach for their ingratitude, to beget conviction of their baseness, and engage their hope; seeing, though they deserved to be disowned, he still regarded them in a national sense as his sons and daughters, and invited them to turn to him with assurances of kind acceptance. Note; It is never too late to return to God; the deepest revolters will find their king, on humble submission, ready to forgive.

2. A blessed reformation wrought. In that day, when their deliverance should appear so evidently the work of God's hand, they would cast away their idols of gold and silver, the work which their own hands had made: (so bent were they upon idolatry, that no cost or pains was spared; but) now their sin is their burden, and their idols detested and abhorred. Note; (1.) In a day of repentance our tempters to sin will be loathed more than ever they have been loved. (2.) Every man has by nature his peculiar idol lust, the indulgence of which will be his bitterest burden when God awakens his conscience, and against which he must place an especial guard.

3. A glorious victory obtained. The Assyrian shall fall, not by an arm of flesh, but by the immediate stroke of God: and, while the army is discomfited, their king in terrors shall flee, and his princes, the few who escape with him, shall pass over to his strong-hold for fear—his mighty warriors who were left hasted to return, lest they should be pursued by the Jews in their flight, and dreading that fiery furnace of wrath which burns so hot against the enemies of Zion. Note; (1.) When God contends, he will overcome. (2.) If present judgments be so terrible, what must be the fire of hell, and the furnace of eternal wrath! (3.) The same God who is a consuming fire to his enemies, is a wall of fire around his people to protect them, and a fire of love within their hearts to comfort them.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 31". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.