Worthless Egypt

“‘Ah, stubborn children,’ declares the LORD, ‘who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction’” (vv. 1–2a).

- Isaiah 30:1–7

Egypt and the children of Jacob always had an uneasy relationship, which went all the way back to Abraham’s sojourn in the pharaoh’s land and the centuries of slavery they endured there (Gen. 12:10–20; Ex. 1:8–14; 12:40–42). But as we saw a few days ago, there were times when hostility did not define the nations’ dealings with one another. Based on the time-tested principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Egypt and the people of God often joined together to resist the threat of bigger bullies, such as Assyria. For instance, King Hoshea of the northern kingdom of Israel sought help from Egypt when he purposed to deny Assyria tribute money (2 Kings 17:1–4). Hoshea suffered the consequences, for Assyria’s response was to conquer Israel’s capital city of Samaria and take the Israelites into exile (vv. 5–41).

Later, Judah’s rulers also turned to Egypt for help. Two decades after Samaria fell in 722 BC, Judah asked Egypt for help when it chose to rebel against Assyria, to which it had been paying tribute since Ahaz invited the empire to meddle in Judah’s affairs through an alliance against Syria and Israel in 735 BC (16:1–9). Judah rebelled against Assyria during the reign of King Hezekiah in about 701 BC (18:1–7), and the account of this rebellion in 2 Kings 18 reveals that Judah appealed to Egypt for military aid during the conflict (vv. 19–21). This is the setting for Isaiah’s warning in today’s passage that Judah should not seek Egypt’s help against Assyria (Isa. 30:1–7).

Although Hezekiah features prominently in Isaiah’s later chapters (36–39), he is not mentioned or condemned in Isaiah 30:1–7. This is probably because he did not initiate the contact with Egypt but was forced into the alliance by his advisors. In any case, the turn to Egypt manifested great sin, for it demonstrated Judah’s failure to seek God as its rock and shelter (Ps. 18:2). For Judah to trust Egypt was to “add sin to sin” (Isa. 30:1). This likely refers back to Ahaz’s initial sin of turning to Assyria for help against Syria and Israel (2 Kings 16:1–9; Isa. 7). Judah sinned decades earlier and invited trouble by trusting imperial military might and not the Lord against other human powers. In Hezekiah’s day, the people did it again, trusting Egypt and not the Lord against Assyria. They were putting their confidence in the weakness of men and not the strength of the Creator, a foolish move in any situation (Isa. 30:7).

Coram Deo

For Judah, trusting in Egypt was foolhardy as well as sinful. Egypt could provide no real help, for it was a shadow of its former self. Poetically, Isaiah describes Egypt as the normally terrifying sea monster Rahab who has been forced to sit still and cannot provide the assistance Judah needs (Isa. 30:7). The lesson for us is relatively obvious. We must not rest our ultimate hope in other people or things but in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself alone. Only He has the power to save.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 44
Isaiah 31
Jeremiah 17:5–8
Galatians 3:10–14

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