Isaiah 31:1
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!
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(1) Woe to them that go down . . .—The Egyptian alliance was, of course, the absorbing topic of the time, and Isaiah returns to it yet again. As in Isaiah 30:16, the princes of Judah were attracted by the prospect of strengthening themselves in their weakest point, and reinforcing the cavalry of Judah, which could hardly be mentioned by an Assyrian ambassador without a smile (Isaiah 36:9), with an Egyptian contingent. Isaiah once more condemns this as trusting in an “arm of flesh “instead of in the “Holy One of Israel.”

Isaiah 31:1-3. Wo to them that go down to Egypt, &c. — As the Jews did, contrary to God’s command, Deuteronomy 17:16. And stay on horses — For Egypt had many and choice horses. But they look not unto the Lord — Their confidence in the creature was accompanied with, and produced, a distrust of God, and a neglect of seeking to him by prayer for his help. Yet he also is wise, &c. — You think you are wise, in engaging the Egyptians; but God is not inferior to them in wisdom or strength, but much superior, and therefore you have done foolishly in preferring them before him, who will execute his judgments upon you, notwithstanding all the Egyptians can do. And will not call back his words — His threatenings denounced against you; but will arise against the evil-doers — Against this wicked and rebellious people; and against the help — That is, the helpers, as it is explained in the next verse; of them that work iniquity — That act in direct opposition to the express command of God. The Egyptians are men, and not God — And therefore are utterly unable to defend you, either without or against God’s will; and their horses, flesh — Weak and frail, and not spirit — Not like spiritual substances, such as the angels, who are immortal, and invisible to men. When the Lord shall stretch out his hand — Shall exert his power to oppose or punish them, both he that helpeth and he that is holpen shall fall, &c., together — And their alliance shall prove their joint ruin.

31:1-5 God will oppose the help sought from workers of iniquity. Sinners may be convicted of folly by plain and self-evident truths, which they cannot deny, but will not believe. There is no escaping the judgments of God; and evil pursues sinners. The Lord of hosts will come down to fight for Mount Zion. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will appear for the defence of his church. And as birds hovering over their young ones to protect them, with such compassion and affection will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem. He will so defend it, as to secure its safety.Wo - (see the note at Isaiah 30:1).

To them that go down to Egypt - (see the note at Isaiah 30:2).

And stay on horses - (see the note at Isaiah 30:16).

And trust in chariots - (see the note at Isaiah 21:7). That they were often used in war, is apparent from the following places Joshua 11:4; Judges 1:19; 1 Samuel 13:5; 2 Samuel 8:4.

Because they are many - Because they hope to secure the aid of many. See the references above. It is evident that their confidence in them would be in proportion to the number which they could bring into the field.

But they look not ... - (see the note at Isaiah 30:1)


Isa 31:1-9. The Chief Strength of the Egyptian Armies Lay in Their Cavalry.

1. and stay on horses, and trust in chariots—In their level and fertile plains horses could easily be used and fed (Ex 14:9; 1Ki 10:28). In hilly Palestine horses were not so easily had or available. The Jews were therefore the more eager to get Egyptian chariots as allies against the Assyrian cavalry. In Assyrian sculptures chariots are represented drawn by three horses, and with three men in them (see Isa 36:9; Ps 20:7; Da 9:13).The folly and punishment of trust in Egypt, Isaiah 31:1-3. God will fight for Jerusalem, Isaiah 31:4,5, if they will turn unto him, Isaiah 31:6,7. The fall of Assyria, Isaiah 31:8,9.

That go down to Egypt for help; as the Jews did, contrary to God’s command, Deu 17:16.

And stay on horses; for Egypt had many and choice horses.

They look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord; their confidence in the creature was accompanied with and did produce a distrust of God, and a neglect of seeking to him by prayer for his help.

Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help,.... Or, "O ye that go down", &c.; what poor foolish creatures are you! And in the end what miserable and wretched ones will ye be! Such were the Jewish rulers and people, who either went themselves, or sent ambassadors to the king of Egypt, to supply them with men and horses against the king of Assyria, contrary to the express command of God, which forbid them returning to Egypt; and which showed their unmindfulness of deliverance from thence, and their not having a due sense of that mercy upon them; as well as their so doing exposed them to the danger of being drawn into the superstitions and idolatries of that people:

and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; having their dependence upon, and placing their confidence in, the strength and numbers of the cavalry of the Egyptians:

but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord; they did not look unto the Lord with an eye of faith, nor seek him by prayer and supplication; or ask any counsel or instruction of him, as the Targum paraphrases the last clause; so that their sin lay not only in their confidence in the creature, but in their neglect of the Lord himself; and so all such persons are foolish and miserable, that trust in an arm of flesh, that place their confidence in creature acts, in their own righteousness, duties, and services, and have no regard to the Holy One of Israel, to the holiness and righteousness of Christ, neglect that, and do not submit to it; thus the Targum interprets the former clause of the Word of the Holy One of Israel, the essential Word Christ.

Woe to them that {a} go down to Egypt for help; and rely on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not to the Holy One of Israel, neither {b} seek the LORD!

(a) There were two special reasons why the Israelites should not join with the Egyptians: first, because the Lord had commanded them never to return there, De 17:16,28:68 lest they should forget the benefit of their redemption: and secondly, lest they should be corrupted with the superstition and idolatry of the Egyptians, and so forsake God, Jer 2:18.

(b) Meaning, that they forsake the Lord, if they put their trust in worldly things: for they cannot trust in both.

1. Woe to them that put their trust in the horses and chariots of Egypt! The Jews were painfully conscious of their weakness in cavalry as compared with the Assyrians, and this was one of the considerations that made a league with Egypt so attractive in their eyes (see ch. Isaiah 30:16, Isaiah 36:8-9). Egypt was always renowned in antiquity for its strength in this arm (Hom. Iliad ix. 383; Diodorus, i. 45). To the prophets horses and chariots were in themselves objectionable as embodiments of irreligious militarism (cf. ch. Isaiah 2:7); they were of course doubly so when obtained through compacts with foreign states.

neither seek the Lord] i.e. seek His counsel (Isaiah 30:2).

Verses 1-3. - A FURTHER WARNING AGAINST SEEKING THE ALLIANCE OF EGYPT. This prophecy seems to be quite independent of the last (Isaiah 30:1-7). It may have been given earlier or later. The chief point brought out, which had not distinctly appeared previously, is the value set on the horses and chariots of Egypt in the conflict with Assyria (comp. 2 Kings 18:24). Verse 1. - Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help (comp. Isaiah 30:1, 2; and see also the earlier prophecy, Isaiah 20:2-6). The examples of Samaria, Gaza, and Ashdod might well have taught the lesson of distrust of Egypt, without any Divine warnings (see G. Smith's 'Eponym Canon,' pp. 125-131). But the Jews were infatuated, and relied on Egypt despite her previous failures to give effective aid. And stay on horses. The Assyrian cavalry was very numerous, and very efficient. It is often represented on the monuments. Egyptian cavalry, on the other hand, is not represented at all; and it may be questioned whether, in the early times, the Egyptian war-horses were not entirely employed in the chariot-service (see 'Pulpit Commentary' on Exodus, p. 321). The later dynasties of Egyptian kings, however, employed cavalry, as appears from 2 Chronicles 12:3; Herod., 2:162; 'Records of the Past,' vol. it. pp. 68, 70, 72, etc. And trust in chariots, because they are many. The large number of the chariots maintained by the Pharaohs is abundantly evidenced. Diodorus assigns to Sesostris twenty-seven thousand (1. 54, § 4). This is, no doubt, an exaggeration; but the six hundred of the Pharaoh of the Exodus (Exodus 14:7), and even the one thousand two hundred of Shishak(2 Chronicles 12:3) are moderate computations, quite in accord with the monuments, and with all that we otherwise know of Egyptian warfare. Egypt exported chariots to the neighboring countries (1 Kings 10:29), and was at this time the only power which seemed capable of furnishing such a chariot-force as could hope to contend on tolerably even terms with the force of Assyria. They look not unto the Holy One of Israel (comp. Isaiah 30:11, 12). The trust in the Egyptian alliance was accompanied by a distrust of Jehovah and his power, and a disinclination to look to him for aid. Isaiah 31:1There is nothing to surprise us in the fact, that the prophet returns again and again to the alliance with Egypt. After his warning had failed to prevent it, he wrestled with it in spirit, set before himself afresh the curse which would be its certain fruit, brought out and unfolded the consolation of believers that lay hidden in the curse, and did not rest till the cursed fruit, that had become a real thing, had been swallowed up by the promise, which was equally real. The situation of this fourth woe is just the same as that of the previous one. The alliance with Egypt is still in progress. "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and rely upon horses, and put their trust in chariots, that there are many of them; and in horsemen, that there is a powerful multitude of them; and do not look up to the Holy One of Israel, and do not inquire for Jehovah! And yet He also is wise; thus then He brings evil, and sets not His words aside; and rises up against the house of miscreants, and against the help of evil-doers. And Egypt is man, and not God; and its horses flesh, and not spirit. And when Jehovah stretches out His hand, the helper stumbles, and he that is helped falls, and they all perish together." The expression "them that go down" (hayyōredı̄m) does not imply that the going down was taking place just then for the first time. It is the participle of qualification, just as God is called הבּרא. לעזרה with Lamed of the object, as in Isaiah 20:6. The horses, chariots, and horsemen here, as those of Egypt, which Diodorus calls ἱππάσιμος, on account of its soil being so suitable for cavalry (see Lepsius in Herzog's Cyclopaedia). The participle is combined in the finite verb. Instead of ועל־סוּסים, we also find the reading preferred by Norzi, of על without Vav, as in Isaiah 5:11 (cf., Isaiah 5:23). The perfects, שׁעוּ לא and דרשׁוּ לא, are used without any definite time, to denote that which was always wanting in them. The circumstantial clause, "whilst He is assuredly also wise," i.e., will bear comparison with their wisdom and that of Egypt, is a touching μείωσις. It was not necessary to think very highly of Jehovah, in order to perceive the reprehensible and destructive character of their apostasy from Him. The fut. consec. ויּבא is used to indicate the inevitable consequence of their despising Him who is also wise. He will not set aside His threatening words, but carry them out. The house of miscreants is Judah (Isaiah 1:4); and the help (abstr. pro concr., just as Jehovah is frequently called "my help," ‛ezrâthı̄, by the Psalmist) of evil-doers is Egypt, whose help has been sought by Judah. The latter is "man" ('âdâm), and its horses "flesh" (bâsâr); whereas Jehovah is God (El) and spirit (rūăch; see Psychol. p. 85). Hofmann expounds it correctly: "As ruuach has life in itself, it is opposed to the bâsâr, which is only rendered living through the rūăch; and so El is opposed to the corporeal 'âdâm, who needs the spirit in order to live at all." Thus have they preferred the help of the impotent and conditioned, to the help of the almighty and all-conditioning One. Jehovah, who is God and spirit, only requires to stretch out His hand (an anthropomorphism, by the side of which we find the rule for interpreting it); and the helpers, and those who are helped (i.e., according to the terms of the treaty, though not in reality), that is to say, both the source of the help and the object of help, are all cast into one heap together.
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