Isaiah 31

Egypt Will Disappoint

1Those who go down to Egypt for help are as good as dead,
Heb “Woe [to] those who go down to Egypt for help.”

those who rely on war horses,
and trust in Egypt’s many chariots
Heb “and trust in chariots for they are many.”

and in their many, many horsemen.
Heb “and in horsemen for they are very strong [or “numerous”].”

But they do not rely on the Holy One of Israel
See the note on the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” in 1:4.

and do not seek help from the Lord.
2 Yet he too is wise
This statement appears to have a sarcastic tone. The royal advisers who are advocating an alliance with Egypt think they are wise, but the Lord possesses wisdom as well and will thwart their efforts.
and he will bring disaster;
he does not retract his decree.
Heb “and he does not turn aside [i.e., “retract”] his words”; NIV “does not take back his words.”

He will attack the wicked nation,
Heb “and he will arise against the house of the wicked.”

and the nation that helps
That is, Egypt.
those who commit sin.
Heb “and against the help of the doers of sin.”

3 The Egyptians are mere humans, not God;
their horses are made of flesh, not spirit.
The Lord will strike with
Heb “will extend”; KJV, ASV, NASB, NCV “stretch out.”
his hand;
the one who helps will stumble
and the one being helped will fall.
Together they will perish.
Heb “together all of them will come to an end.”

The Lord Will Defend Zion

4 Indeed, this is what the Lord says to me:
“The Lord will be like a growling lion,
like a young lion growling over its prey.
Heb “As a lion growls, a young lion over its prey.” In the Hebrew text the opening comparison is completed later in the verse (“so the Lord will come down…”), after a parenthesis describing how fearless the lion is. The present translation divides the verse into three sentences for English stylistic reasons.

Though a whole group of shepherds gathers against it,
it is not afraid of their shouts
or intimidated by their yelling.
Heb “Though there is summoned against it fullness of shepherds, by their voice it is not terrified, and to their noise it does not respond.”

In this same way the Lord who commands armies will descend
to do battle on Mount Zion and on its hill.
Some prefer to translate the phrase לִצְבֹּא עַל (litsbo al) as “fight against,” but the following context pictures the Lord defending, not attacking, Zion.

5 Just as birds hover over a nest,
Heb “just as birds fly.” The words “over a nest” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

so the Lord who commands armies will protect Jerusalem.
He will protect and deliver it;
as he passes over
The only other occurrence of this verb is in Exod 12:13, 23, 27, where the Lord “passes over” (i.e., “spares”) the Israelite households as he comes to judge their Egyptian oppressors. The noun פֶּסַח (pesakh, “Passover”) is derived from the verb. The use of the verb in Isa 31:5 is probably an intentional echo of the Exodus event. As in the days of Moses the Lord will spare his people as he comes to judge their enemies.
he will rescue it.
6 You Israelites! Return to the one against whom you have so blatantly rebelled!
Heb “Return to the one [against] whom the sons of Israel made deep rebellion.” The syntax is awkward here. A preposition is omitted by ellipsis after the verb (see GKC 446 #138.f, n. 2), and there is a shift from direct address (note the second plural imperative “return”) to the third person (note “they made deep”). For other examples of abrupt shifts in person in poetic style, see GKC 462 #144.p.
7For at that time
Or “in that day” (KJV).
everyone will get rid of
Heb “reject” (so NIV); NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT “throw away.”
the silver and gold idols your hands sinfully made.
Heb “the idols of their idols of silver and their idols of gold which your hands made for yourselves [in] sin.” חָטָא (khata’, “sin”) is understood as an adverbial accusative of manner. See J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:573, n. 4.

8 Assyria will fall by a sword, but not one human-made;
Heb “Assyria will fall by a sword, not of a man.”

a sword not made by humankind will destroy them.
Heb “and a sword not of humankind will devour him.”

They will run away from this sword
Heb “he will flee for himself from before a sword.”

and their young men will be forced to do hard labor.
9 They will surrender their stronghold
Heb “rocky cliff” (cf. ASV, NASB “rock”), viewed metaphorically as a place of defense and security.
because of fear;
Heb “His rocky cliff, because of fear, will pass away [i.e., “perish”].”

their officers will be afraid of the Lord’s battle flag.”
Heb “and they will be afraid of the flag, his officers.”

This is what the Lord says –
the one whose fire is in Zion,
whose firepot is in Jerusalem.
The “fire” and “firepot” here symbolize divine judgment, which is heating up like a fire in Jerusalem, waiting to be used against the Assyrians when they attack the city.

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