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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 5

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 30, 31: The Spirit of Truth

Chapter 3: Help from the Flesh

The Assyrian threat was looming, and King Hezekiah decided to make an alliance and a defense treaty with Egypt. As the messengers were leaving, the word of the Lord came to the prophet in Isaiah 30:1, 2 saying,

1 “Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the Lord, “who execute a plan, but not Mine, and make an alliance, but not of My Spirit, in order to add sin to sin, who proceed down to Egypt without consulting Me, to take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!”

Hezekiah was a godly king, but he did not inquire of the Lord through the prophet until the Assyrian army had surrounded Jerusalem. Of course, when he finally reached the point of absolute desperation, only then did he appeal to God (Isaiah 37:1-4). How often believers rely upon their own strength until it finally fails them, and only then, as a last resort, do they turn to God to save them from disaster.

Appealing to Egypt was the spiritual equivalent of depending on the flesh through the Old Covenant. Recall that, allegorically speaking, the Old Covenant is “Hagar” (Gal. 4:24), and that Hagar was an Egyptian (Gen. 16:1). There are many Old Covenant believers who rely upon the flesh for their salvation (deliverance). It does not mean that they are ungodly as such, for even Hezekiah was said to be a godly king. Rather, it shows that believers are generally carnal until they reach a crisis point that opens their eyes through divine revelation.

The law forbids making covenants (or alliances) with foreign nations or with their gods (Exodus 23:32). The law speaks specifically in terms of alliances with the Canaanite nations, but Isaiah shows us that it also applies to Egypt—and, by extension—all idolatrous nations. If those nations were to turn to the God of Israel, of course, then they would be not only allied but ruled by the same King of Kings. Hence, the purpose of this law was to separate His people (believers) from those whose loyalty was to other gods or other religions.

For this reason also, Dan. 2:35 foretold a day when the “stone” would grow until it filled the whole earth. This means that in the end all nations will be ruled by the Messiah-King and will be united into a single world government under Jesus Christ. In that day the law forbidding covenants with other nations will be irrelevant, because there will be no ungodly nations.

But in the days of Isaiah and Hezekiah, Egypt was yet an ungodly nation. The prophecy of the alliance between Israel, Egypt, and Assyria in Isaiah 19:23-25 has not been fulfilled to this day.

Help from Egypt Fails

Isaiah 30:3-5 continues the word of the Lord against Hezekiah’s plans:

3 “Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt your humiliation. 4 For their princes are at Zoan and their ambassadors arrive at Hanes. 5 Everyone will be ashamed because of a people who cannot profit them, who are not for help or profit, but for shame and also for reproach.”

Isaiah’s metaphor pictures Judah attempting to find shelter from the heat of day and a shade from the sun. The Egyptian word for “sun” was phra, the root of the word Pharaoh, who was a sun god in the land of Egypt. Perhaps the prophet was showing how ridiculous it was to try to use the sun as a shade from itself.

Recall from Isaiah 19:11, in the prophet’s message to Egypt, he said, “The princes of Zoan are mere fools; the advice of Pharaoh’s wisest advisers has become stupid.” To rely upon them could only end in disappointment and shame (loss of face).

Zoan was the capital of Egypt, where, in the time of Moses, it was where the contest of miracles occurred between Moses and the Egyptian sorcerers (Psalm 78:12, 43). Hanes was the capital of a minor district in Egypt. Hanes was short for Tahapenes (called Tahpanhes in Jer. 43:8, 9) and was located west of the Nile about 70 miles from Cairo. It appears that Hezekiah had sent ambassadors to both Zoan and Hanes.

The oracle

Isaiah 30:6, 7 says,

6 The oracle concerning the beasts of the Negev: Through a land of distress and anguish, from where come lioness and lion, viper and flying serpent, they carry their riches on the backs of young donkeys and their treasures on camels’ humps, to a people who cannot profit them; 7 even Egypt, whose help is vain and empty. Therefore, I have called her “Rahab who has been exterminated.”

The Negev was the territory south of Judah extending to Ezion-geber and the city of Eloth (now Eilat) on the north end of the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba). Israel had camped there during its journey from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (Num. 33:35), and years later King Solomon built a fleet of ships there to send on mining expeditions to the far east (1 Kings 9:26).

Hezekiah’s ambassadors had to pass through the northwest edge of the Negev to go down to Egypt. The prophet calls it “a land of distress and anguish,” because it was a land with little water and many dangerous animals, including lions and flying serpents. The serpents did not really fly, of course. They were so named because they would climb trees and wait for prey to walk under the tree. Then they would spring down upon the prey, thus appearing to fly.

The prophet saw a vision of the ambassadors with their donkeys and camels laden down with treasures to present to Pharaoh as gifts in hopes of making an alliance with him. But the prophet says that Egypt’s “help is vain and empty.” Isaiah also refers to Egypt by the poetic name Rahab, a name used again in Isaiah 51:9. It is also the name of Egypt in Psalm 87:4.

Rahab means “blusterer” and denotes pride and strength. It was the name of a mythical (or extinct) sea monster. It may be that Egypt was given that name on account of its many crocodiles in the Nile, some of which were very large. Isaiah seems to use the term to denote Egypt’s strength along with its bluster and pride.

Isaiah calls Egypt, “Rahab who has been exterminated.” The word translated “exterminated” is shebeth, which means “interruption, a cessation, a sitting still, rest.” It is related to the word Sabbath, “cessation, rest.” Isaiah’s word picture shows that Egypt’s bluster will cease. On a deeper prophetic level, Rahab-Egypt will finally come to the place of resting in God when the promises of God in Isaiah 19:23-25 are fulfilled.

Judah’s Rejection of Prophecy

Isaiah 30:8-11 says,

8 Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll, that it may serve in the time to come as a witness forever. 9 For this is a rebellious people, false sons, sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of the Lord; 10 who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”; and to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us pleasant words, prophesy illusions. 11 Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”

The prophet was instructed to write down the vision as a permanent record that the mission of Hezekiah’s ambassadors would fail in the end. God labeled Judah as “a rebellious people, false sons… who refuse to listen to the instruction of the Lord.” In other words, trying to secure help from Egypt was an act of rebellion. This, of course, did not improve Hezekiah’s popularity, especially with the government.

The people, in effect, were telling the seers to stop seeing things that ran contrary to their own plans and fleshly desires. The prophets, were expected to “speak to us pleasant words,” and to “prophesy illusions.” Prophecy was expected to conform to the will of man. That is the essence of rebellion as God sees it.

In other words, Judah, as with Ephraim, was drinking the wrong kind of wine. These were the drunkards of Judah who demanded the wine of Babylon and the flesh. Like Ephraim, they were soon to hear “a foreign tongue” (Isaiah 28:11), giving them the word of the Lord through Babylonian language as they were led into captivity.

God’s response is given in Isaiah 30:12-14,

12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Since you have rejected this word and have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them, 13 therefore this iniquity will be to you like a breach about to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose collapse comes suddenly in an instant, 14 whose collapse is like the smashing of a potter’s jar, so ruthlessly shattered that a sherd will not be found among its pieces to take fire from a hearth or to scoop water from a cistern.”

In those days broken pottery was often crushed into powder to make cement. This is the word picture that the prophet was presenting when he said, “the smashing of a potter’s jar.” Any such vessel that was crushed to powder would make it impossible to find a sherd (or shard) to use at a hearth or cistern.

Perhaps this particular prophecy established the foundation for Jeremiah a century later when he was instructed to smash a jar in the valley of Hinnom to show the utter destruction of Judah and Jerusalem (Jer. 19:1, 2, 10, 11). Everyone knew that once a jar was ground to powder, it could not be remade into another vessel. It appears, then, that Isaiah 30:14 laid the foundation for Jeremiah’s prophecy.