Isaiah (Part 36): Right Dependency – Egyptian Alliance (Ch 30)
Having left the discussion of God’s plan using Israel in Isaiah 29, we are confronted in Isaiah 30 by a plan that is not God’s. The Jews are in rebellion—the same kind of rebellion that they have been in throughout their history. It is a rebellion of choosing their own way without consideration of the revelation of God. We find them, in the opening verses of chapter 30, traveling to Egypt to make an alliance with them to defend against the Assyrian oppression. The situation is interesting. Israel became a nation as it left captivity in Egypt. Now they believe to preserve the nation they must go back to ally themselves with Egypt. This is in direct violation of what God had told them to do when they first left Egyptian captivity. We read in Deuteronomy 17:14-16:
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations around me,’ you are to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses. Appoint a king from your brothers. You are not to set a foreigner over you, or one who is not of your people. However, he must not acquire many horses for himself or send the people back to Egypt to acquire many horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are never to go back that way again.’”
The Lord had given them revelation. They knew it. They had the written copies of the books of Moses. But they choose to ignore the revelation of God and operate according to their own wisdom.
We notice in the Deuteronomy passage that God is telling them to appoint a king when they enter the Promised Land. Yet this sounds quite different from how God viewed their decision when they did appoint a king. We read in 1 Samuel 8:4-8 the following:
“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.’ When they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us,’ Samuel considered their demand sinful, so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord told him, ‘Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king. They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods.’”
So what is going on? Why is God upset? In appointing a king, they are merely doing what God had told them to do.
This demonstrates for us again that God is not concerned only with ritual obedience. God is developing relationship, and so he cares deeply about attitude. God’s idea was never that Israel should replace him with a king. The king was to handle the nation administratively and lead as God directed. But in the Samuel passage, we learn that Israel didn’t want the leadership of God at all. They wanted a man to give direction and be final leader and authority like the other nations. The sin was not in choosing a king. The sin was abandoning God in favor of a chosen king.
In Isaiah 30 we see the same disobedience of attitude. The alliance with Egypt was not a strategy developed because of direction from God. The Jews abandoned God’s revelation in order to implement their own choice for protection.
In the first verse of chapter 30, we read the phrase: “they make an alliance.” The Hebrew is interesting. The King James reads, “cover with a covering.” Several others read “weave a web” or “weave a plot.” The Lexham English Bible translates it, “pour out a libation.” “Weaving a web” certainly gives a picture of forming an alliance. Two nations join together as weaving something between them. But what about the KJV and LEB translations of covering, as in the pouring out of a libation to cover in an offering or sacrifice?
Remember that at this time, there is more than a political tie when two nations ally. Each nation had its particular deity. Going to another nation for help meant admission that your deity was not helping you and maybe the deity of your allied nation could help. In other words, we see in the alliance with Egypt that Judah did not trust its own God but chose to submit to Egypt’s god for protection. Thus, the pouring of a libation demonstrated that the alliance was not only political but religious. They worshipped the Egyptian god in forming the alliance with the nation. Back in Isaiah 16, Moab had such an opportunity. They sought shelter from Judah against the oppression of Assyria. But realizing the commitment that alliance would necessitate with Judah’s God, they decided against the alliance.
Not only does Judah withstand or stand against the revelation of God not to go to Egypt, they withdraw from seeking God’s counsel. In verses 1-2 of Isaiah 30 we read that they have a plan…but not God’s; they make an alliance…against God’s will; and they go to Egypt…without asking God’s advice. They are not interested in the revelation of God. So they act without looking to him at all.
Their disrespect of God’s care leads them to seek shelter and protection from other sources. God tells them in verses 4-5 that they will find no benefit, realizing only disgrace, shame, and reproach.
Verses 6 and 7 are labeled as an oracle against the animals of the Negev. The oracle is really against the pack animals carrying the tribute to Egypt and what that represented—the abandonment of God in favor of the protection of Egypt. The Negev was the large desert region south of Judah. The fact that the Judean emissaries were traveling south through the Negev rather than more westward to the coastal road indicates either that they feared the Philistine control of the coast (which seems a bit strange since Philistia was in alliance already with Egypt) or that the Judeans intended to meet with the Egyptian rulers in the cities of the Sinai peninsula region. That seems more likely they’re goal. They could, perhaps, get aid from the Egyptian leaders closest to them.
These two verses have a few other interesting points. The word land in verse 6 is actually plural. I think that better indicates the abandonment of their God-given land to travel anywhere else to look for protection. Verse 7’s first word is Egypt. In the Hebrew, it is provided more as an interjection: “Egypt!” It indicates God’s and Isaiah’s disbelief that Israel would actually abandon the protection of the all-knowing, all-powerful God for…Egypt? Isaiah calls Egypt Rahab. The word literally means “breadth,” indicating an expanse. That certainly fits for the land of Egypt that is the eastern edge of the vast Sahara desert. Some have linked the word to a mythical dragon largely because of Isaiah 51:9, which reads: “Wake up, wake up! Put on the strength of the Lord’s power. Wake up as in days past, as in generations of long ago. Wasn’t it You who hacked Rahab to pieces, who pierced the sea monster?” In any case, we know that in Isaiah 30, Isaiah is referring to Egypt as he argues that Egypt is worthless and calls her, “Rahab who just sits.” Whether we picture a dragon that just sits and does nothing or understand Rahab as an empty expanse of sandy desert that sits and does nothing, the result is the same: Egypt will be of no help to Judah.
The next section of the chapter, verses 8 through 14, move us from speaking of Judah’s sin in allying with Egypt and the ineffectualness of that alliance to the reason that Judah sought the alliance. Judah was rebellious and deceptive.
Notice the progression in verses 9 through 11. They begin in deceit, pretending a concern for religious form by calling to the prophets and seers, but ordering them to prophecy according to their wishes, not according to the word from God. By the time we get to verse 11, the Judean leaders want no part of God’s counsel; they are intent on choosing their own way.
God meets their rebellion with destruction. He describes it as a weakening wall that collapses suddenly. The destruction is complete, described as shattered pottery with no fragment left for use.
In verse 15 we read that the Lord, the Existing One (Yahweh), the Pure One (holy) of Israel provides advice for delivery from destruction. It is basically the same advice given throughout Scripture, from the Garden to Revelation’s glory: return and rest. Since sin interrupted the relationship of the Garden, God’s plan for restoration has been in motion, calling people to return. The return is a return from seeking their own way—any way for security and provision apart from God. Rest is promised on return. The Hebrew word is not merely relaxation (although part of it as shown in Proverbs 29:9 and Ecclesiastes 4:6; 6:5; and 9:17). We understand in the Hebrew word the placing in rest.
Job 17:16 Will [hope] go down to the gates of Sheol, or will we descend together to the dust?
Job 36:16 Indeed, He lured you from the jaws of distress to a spacious and unconfined place. Your table was spread with choice food.
Isaiah 30:30 - And the Lord will make the splendor of His voice heard and reveal His arm striking in angry wrath.
Each of these uses of the word indicates the setting down of something. It is the idea that God set his people in the Promised Land to live in his rest. We read of that rest in Hebrews 3 and 4 in which the author relates it to the rest of the New Covenant Kingdom. At the end of Hebrews in 12:28a we read that this rest, this kingdom set down by God “cannot be shaken.”