Isaiah 31:3
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helps shall fall, and he that is helped shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.
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(3) The Egyptians are men . . .—We hear again the key-note of Isaiah’s teaching. The true strength of a nation lay in its spiritual, not in its material, greatness: in seeking the Holy One of Israel by practising holiness. Without that condition the alliance with Egypt would be fatal both to those that sought for help and those who gave it.

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.Now the Egyptians are men - They are nothing but people; they have no power but such as other people possess. The idea here is, that the case in reference to which they sought aid was one in which "divine" help was indispensable, and that, therefore, they relied on the aid of the Egyptians in vain.

And their horses flesh, and not spirit - There is need, not merely of "physical" strength, but of wisdom, and intelligence, and it is in vain to look for that in mere brutes.

Both he that helpeth - Egypt, whose aid is sought.

And he that is holpen - Judah, that had sought the aid of Egypt. Neither of them would be able to stand against the wrath of God.

3. not spirit—not of divine power (Ps 56:4; 146:3, 5; Zec 4:6).

he that helpeth—Egypt.


Are men, and not God; and therefore utterly unable to defend you, either without or against my will.

Their horses flesh; weak and frail, as that word signifies, Psalm 78:39 Hebrews 5:7, and elsewhere.

Not spirit; not like spiritual substances, such as the angels, who are immortal, and invisible by men; whereof we have instances, Exodus 12:29,30 Isa 37:36. Now the Egyptians are men, and not God,.... Be it that they are mighty, they are not mighty, as God is; and indeed they are but frail, feeble, mortal, and mutable men, and therefore not to be trusted in, and depended on; or to be put upon an equality with God, and even to be preferred to him, as they were by the Jews; and of what use and service could they be unto them, seeing God was against them?

and their horses flesh, and not spirit; only flesh, without an immortal soul or spirit, which man has; and therefore a foolish thing in man to trust in them, who must be entirely guided and directed by them; and much less angelic spirits, or like them, which are incorporeal, invisible, and exceedingly mighty and powerful, which excel all creatures in strength, and are called the mighty angels; these are God's cavalry, his horses and chariots; see Psalm 68:17, Habakkuk 3:8 and what mighty things have been done by them, even by a single one? Witness the destruction of the Assyrian army, in one night, by one of them; wherefore the Egyptian cavalry was not to be named with them (q):

When the Lord shall stretch out his hand; as soon as he does it, before he strikes, and when he does this in order to it:

both he that helpeth shall fall; or "stumble", take a false step; meaning the Egyptians, sent for and come forth to help the Jews; but, stumbling and falling themselves, would be but poor assistants to them. Aben Ezra interprets this of the king of Assyria destroying the Egyptians, when he came to Jerusalem:

and he that is holpen shall fall down; the Jews, helped by the Egyptians, who should fall, and be destroyed, though not now; yet hereafter by the Chaldeans, as they were:

and they all shall fail together; both the Egyptians and the Jews.

(q) So Ben Melech interprets "spirit" of an angel, as he does the word "God" in the preceding clause.

Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that {d} helpeth shall fall, and he that is helped shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.

(d) Meaning, both the Egyptians and the Israelites.

3. men, and not God … flesh, and not spirit] In these antitheses Isaiah formulates his religious conception of history. The present crisis has not been brought about by the mere collision of earthly forces (Egypt, Assyria, Judah); faith discerns in it the operation of a spiritual principle, and knows that that principle must be victorious. “Spirit” is the energetic indestructible element in the universe, by which all life is sustained; and that which is distinctive of the teaching of Isaiah and the prophets generally is (1) the identification of this principle with the moral purpose of Jehovah, and (2) the assertion of the supremacy of the spiritual, thus ethically conceived, over the material. That men could not stand against God, or flesh against spirit, Isaiah’s contemporaries did not need to be taught; what separated him from his hearers was the conviction that there is but one Divine Person, and one spiritual power in the universe, viz.: Jehovah and His moral government as revealed in the consciousness of the prophet. Hence he continues:—And Jehovah shall stretch out his hand, and the helper (Egypt) shall stumble and the holpen (Judah) shall fall; and together they shall all of them perish.Verse 3. - Now the Egyptians are men, and not God. Judah relied on Pharaoh, as on a sort of God, which indeed he was considered in his own country ('Records of the Past,' vol. 6. p. 145, I. 320; p. 148, 1.418, etc.). Isaiah asserts the contrary in the strongest way: the Egyptians, one and all, are men - mere men; and "there is no help in them" (Psalm 146:3). Their horses flesh, and not spirit. The horses, on which so much reliance was placed, were mere animals, subject to all the weakness of the animal nature, not spirit-horses, with a life and vigor of their own, by which they could be a real tower of strength to those on whose side they ranged themselves. They all shall fail together; i.e. the helpers and the helped (compare the concluding clauses of ver. 2). Israel is marching in such a joyful way to a sacred and glorious height, whilst outside Jehovah is sweeping the world-power entirely away, and that without any help from Israel. "And Jehovah causes His majestic voice to be heard, and causes the lowering of His arm to be seen, with the snorting of wrath and the blazing of devouring fire, the bursting of a cloud, and pouring of rain and hailstones. For Asshur will be terrified at the voice of Jehovah, when He smites with the staff. And it will come to pass, every stroke of the rod of destiny, which Jehovah causes to fall upon Asshur, is dealt amidst the noise of drums and the playing of guitars; and in battles of swinging arm He fights it. For a place for the sacrifice of abominations has long been made ready, even for the king is it prepared; deep, broad has He made it: its funeral-pile has fire and wood in abundance; the breath of Jehovah like a stream of brimstone sets it on fire." The imposing crash (on hōd, see Job 39:20) of the cry which Jehovah causes to be heard is thunder (see Psalm 29:1-11); for the catastrophe occurs with a discharge of all the destructive forces of a storm (see Isaiah 29:6). Nephets is the "breaking up" or "bursting," viz., of a cloud. It is through such wrath-announcing phenomena of nature that Jehovah manifests the otherwise invisible letting down of His arm to smite (nachath may possibly not be the derivative of nūăch, "settling down," but of nâchath, "the coming down," as in Psalm 38:3; just as shebheth in 2 Samuel 23:7 is not derived from shūbh, but from shâbhath, to go to ruin). Isaiah 30:31, commencing with ki (for), explains the terrible nature of what occurs, from the object at which it is directed: Asshur is alarmed at the voice of Jehovah, and thoroughly goes to pieces. We must not render this, as the Targum does, "which smites with the rod," i.e., which bears itself so haughtily, so tyrannically (after Isaiah 10:24). The smiter here is Jehovah (lxx, Vulg., Luther); and basshēbhet yakkeh is either an attributive clause, or, better still, a circumstantial determining clause, eo virga percutiente. According to the accents, vehâyâh in Isaiah 30:32 is introductory: "And it will come to pass, every stroke of the punishing rod falls (supply יהיה) with an accompaniment of drums and guitars" (the Beth is used to denote instrumental accompaniment, as in Isaiah 30:29; Isaiah 24:9; Psalm 49:5, etc.) - namely, on the part of the people of Jerusalem, who have only to look on and rejoice in the approaching deliverance. Mūsâdâh with mattēh is a verbal substantive used as a genitive, "an appointment according to decree" (comp. yâsad in Habakkuk 1:12, and yâ‛ad in Micah 6:9). The fact that drums and guitars are heard along with every stroke, is explained in Isaiah 30:32: "Jehovah fights against Asshur with battles of swinging," i.e., not with darts or any other kind of weapon, but by swinging His arm incessantly, to smite Asshur without its being able to defend itself (cf., Isaiah 19:16). Instead of בּהּ, which points back to Asshur, not to matteh, the keri has בּם, which is not so harsh, since it is immediately preceded by עליו. This cutting down of the Assyrians is accounted for in Isaiah 30:33, (ki, for), from the fact that it had long ago been decreed that they should be burned as dead bodies. 'Ethmūl in contrast with mâchâr is the past: it has not happened today, but yesterday, i.e., as the predestination of God is referred to, "long ago."

Tophteh is the primary form of tōpheth (from tūph, not in the sense of the Neo-Persian tâften, Zend. tap, to kindle or burn, from which comes tafedra, melting; but in the Semitic sense of vomiting or abhorring: see at Job 17:6), the name of the abominable place where the sacrifices were offered to Moloch in the valley of Hinnom: a Tophet-like place. The word is variously treated as both a masculine and feminine, possibly because the place of abominable sacrifices is described first as bâmâh in Jeremiah 7:31. In the clause הוּכן למּלך גּם־הוא, the gam, which stands at the head, may be connected with lammelekh, "also for the king is it prepared" (see at Job 2:10); but in all probability lammelekh is a play upon lammolekh (e.g., Leviticus 18:2), "even this has been prepared for the Melekh," viz., the king of Asshur. Because he was to be burned there, together with his army, Jehovah had made this Tophet-like place very deep, so that it might have a far-reaching background, and very broad, so that in this respect also there might be room for many sacrifices. And their medūrâh, i.e., their pile of wood (as in Ezekiel 24:9, cf., Ezekiel 24:5, from dūr, Talm. dayyēr, to lay round, to arrange, pile), has abundance of fire and wood (a hendiadys, like "cloud and smoke" in Isaiah 4:5). Abundance of fire: for the breath of Jehovah, pouring upon the funeral pile like a stream of brimstone, sets it on fire. בּ בּער, not to burn up, but to set on fire. בּהּ points back to tophteh, like the suffix of medurâthâh.

(Note: So far as the form of the text is concerned, kōl has the disjunctive yethib before pashta, which occurs eleven times according to the Masora. Nevertheless the word is logically connected in the closest manner with what follows (comp. 'ēth tōrath in Isaiah 5:24). The âh of mūsâdâh is rafatum pro mappicato, according to the Masora; in which case the suffix would refer to Asshur. In the place of הוא גם we also meet with היּא גם, with this chethib and keri reversed; but the former, according to which הוכן is equivalent to הוכנה, has many examples to support it in the Masora. הוכן has kametz in correct MSS in half pause; whereas Kimchi (Michlol, 117b) regards it as a participle.)

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