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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Isaiah Chapter 31


isa 31:0

It is evident that this chapter was composed at about the same time as the preceding, and relates to the same subject. The general object, like the former, is to dissuade the Jews from their contemplated alliance with Egypt, and to lead them to rely on God. In doing this, the prophet first denounces a woe on those who went down to Egypt to seek aid Isa 31:1; he then states that God will punish them for it Isa 31:2; he then urges the utter inability of the Egyptians to furnish the aid which was needed, since Yahweh was about to stretch out his arm over them also, and they, as well as those who sought their aid, should suffer under his displeasure Isa 31:3. The prophet then, in order to recall them from this contemplated alliance, and to induce them to put confidence in Yahweh, assures them by two most beautiful figures Isa 31:4-5 that God would protect their city in the threatened invasion, and save it from destruction. He calls on them, therefore Isa 31:6, to turn unto God; assures them Isa 31:7 that at that time every man would see the folly of trusting in idols; and finally Isa 31:8-9, assures them of the complete overthrow of the army of the Assyrian. The scope of the prophecy is, therefore, simple and direct; the argument condensed, impressive, and beautiful. It is not improbable, by any means, that these exhortations of Isaiah had a sensible effect on the conduct of Hezekiah. The whole narrative respecting the invasion of Sennacherib would lead to the conclusion, that at first Hezekiah himself joined in the purpose of seeking the alliance with Egypt, but that he was afterward led to abandon it, and to use all his influence to induce his people also to rely on the aid of God; compare Isa 36:6, with Isa 36:18.

Isaiah 31:1

isa 31:1

Wo - (see the note at Isa 30:1).

To them that go down to Egypt - (see the note at Isa 30:2).

And stay on horses - (see the note at Isa 30:16).

And trust in chariots - (see the note at Isa 21:7). That they were often used in war, is apparent from the following places Jos 11:4; Jdg 1:19; Sa1 13:5; Sa2 8:4.

Because they are many - Because they hope to secure the aid of many. See the references above. It is evident that their confidence in them would be in proportion to the number which they could bring into the field.

But they look not ... - (see the note at Isa 30:1)

Isaiah 31:2

isa 31:2

Yet he also is wise - God is wise. It is in vain to attempt to deceive him, or to accomplish such purposes without his knowledge.

And will bring evil - The punishment which is due to such want of confidence in him.

But will arise against the house of the evil-doers - This is a general proposition, and it is evidently just as true now as it was in the time of Isaiah.

Isaiah 31:3

isa 31:3

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.

Isaiah 31:4

isa 31:4

For thus hath the Lord spoken - The design of this verse and the following is to assure the Jews of the certain protection of Yahweh, and thus to induce them to put their trust in him rather than to seek the alliance with Egypt. To do this the prophet makes use of two striking illustrations, the first of which is, that Yahweh would be no more alarmed at the number and power of their enemies than a fierce lion would be that was intent on his prey, and could not be frightened from it by any number of men that should come against him. The "point" of this comparison is, that as the lion that "was intent on his purpose" could not be frightened from it by numbers, so it would be with Yahweh, who "was equally intent on his purpose" - the defense of the city of Jerusalem. It does not mean, of course, that the purpose of God and of the lion resembled each other, but merely that there was similar "intensity of purpose," and similar adherence to it notwithstanding all opposition. The figure is one that denotes the highest vigilance, firmness, steadiness, and a determination on the part of Yahweh that Jerusalem should not fall into the hands of the Assyrians.

Like as the lion - The divine nature and purposes are often represented in the Scriptures by metaphors, allegories, and comparisons taken from animals, and especially from the lion (see Deu 33:20; Job 10:16; Psa 7:2; Hos 11:10).

And the young lion - The vigorous, strong, fierce lion. The use of the two here, gives intensity and strength to the comparison. It is observable that the lion is seldom mentioned alone in the Scriptures.

Roaring on his prey - Roaring as he seizes on his prey. This is the moment of the greatest intensity of purpose in the lion, and it is therefore used by Isaiah to denote the intense purpose of Yahweh to defend Jerusalem, and not to be deterred by any number of enemies.

When a multitude of shepherds is called forth - When the neighborhood is alarmed, and all the inhabitants turn out to destroy him. This comparison is almost exactly in the spirit and language of Homer, "Il." xii. 209, following:

So pressed with hunger from the mountain's brow,

Descends a lion on the flocks below;

So stalks the lordly savage o'er the plain,

In sullen majesty and stern disdain:

In vain loud mastiffs bay him from afar,

And shepherds gall him with an iron war;

Regardless, furious, he pursues his way;

He foams, he roars, he rends the panting prey.


So also Il. xviii. 161, 162:

- But checked he turns; repulsed attacks again.

With fiercer shouts his lingering troops he fires

Nor yields a step, nor from his post retires;

So watchful shepherds strive to force in vain,

The hungry lion from the carcass slain.


He will not be afraid - He will be so intent on his prey that he will not heed their shouting.

Nor abase himself - That is, he will not be frightened, or disheartened.

So shall the Lord of hosts - That is, with the same intensity of purpose; with the same fixedness of design. He will be as little dismayed and diverted from his purpose by the number, the designs, and the war shout of the Assyrian armies.

Isaiah 31:5

isa 31:5

As birds flying - This is another comparison indicating substantially the same thing as the former, that Yahweh would protect Jerusalem. The idea here is, that He would do it in the same manner as birds defend their young by hovering over them, securing them under their wings, and leaping forward, if they are suddenly attacked, to defend them. Our Saviour has used a similar figure to indicate his readiness to have defended and saved the same city Mat 23:27, and it is possible that he may have had this passage in his eye. The phrase 'birds flying,' may denote the "rapidity" with which birds fly to defend their young, and hence, the rapidity with which God would come to defend Jerusalem; or it may refer to the fact that birds, when their young are attacked, fly, or flutter around them to defend them; they will not leave them.

And passing over - פסוח pâsoach. Lowth renders this, 'Leaping forward.' This word, which is usually applied in some of its forms to the Passover Exo 12:13, Exo 12:23, Exo 12:27; Num 9:4; Jos 5:11; Ch2 30:18, properly means, as a verb, "to pass over," and hence, to preserve or spare. The idea in the passage is, that Yahweh would protect Jerusalem, as a bird defends its young.

Isaiah 31:6

isa 31:6

Turn ye unto him - In view of the fact that he will assuredly defend Jerusalem, commit yourselves unto him rather than seek the aid of Egypt.

Have deeply revolted - For the meaning of this phrase, see the note at Isa 29:15.

Isaiah 31:7

isa 31:7

For in that day - That is, in the invasion of Sennacherib, and the events that shalt be consequent thereon.

Every man shall cast away his idols - (see the note at Isa 30:22; compare the note at Isa 2:20).

For a sin - Or rather, the sin which your own hands have made. The sense is, that the making of those idols had been a sin, or sin itself. It had been "the" sin, by way of eminence, which was chargeable upon them.

Isaiah 31:8

isa 31:8

Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword - The sword is often used as an instrument of punishment. It is not meant here literally that the sword would be used, but it is employed to denote that complete destruction would come upon them.

Not of a mighty man - The idea here is, that the army should not fall by the valor of a distinguished warrior, but that it should be done by the direct interposition of God (see Isa 37:36).

Of a mean man - Of a man of humble rank. His army shall not be slain by the hand of mortals.

But he shall flee - The Assyrian monarch escaped when his army was destroyed, and fled toward his own land; Isa 37:37.

From the sword - Margin, 'For fear of.' The Hebrew is 'From the face of the sword;' and the sense is, that he would flee in consequence of the destruction of his host, here represented as destroyed by the sword of Yahweh.

And his young men - The flower and strength of his army.

Shall be discomfited - Margin, 'For melting;' or 'tribute,' or 'tributary.' Septuagint, Εἰς ἥττημα Eis hēttēma - 'For destruction.' The Hebrew word (מס mas), derived probably from מסס mâsas, "to melt away, to dissolve") is most usually employed to denote a levy, fine, or tax - so called, says Taylor, because it wastes or exhausts the substance and strength of a people. The word is often used to denote that people become tributary, or vassals, as in Gen 49:15; Deu 20:11; compare Jos 16:10; Sa2 20:24; Kg1 4:6; Kg1 5:13; Est 10:1. Probably it does not here mean that the strength of the Assyrian army would become literally tributary to the Jews, but that they would be as if they had been placed under a levy to them; their vigor and strength would melt away; as property and numbers do under taxation and tribute.

Isaiah 31:9

isa 31:9

And he shall pass over - Margin, 'His rock shall pass away for fear.' The Hebrew would bear this, but it does not convey a clear idea. The sense seems to be this. The word rendered 'stronghold' (Hebrew, 'His rock') denotes his fortifications, or the places of strength in which he trusted. Probably the Assyrian monarch had many such places which he regarded as perfectly secure, both in the limits of his own kingdom, and on the line of his march toward Judea. Those places would naturally be made strong, in order to afford a refuge in case of a defeat. The idea here is, that so great would be his alarm at the sudden destruction of his army and the failure of his plans, that in his flight he would "pass over" or "beyond" these strong places; he would not even stop to take refuge there and reorganize his scattered forces, but would flee with alarm "beyond" them, and make his way to his own capital. This appears to have been most strikingly fulfilled (see Isa 37:37).

And his princes - Those, perhaps, that ruled over his dependent provinces.

Shall be afraid of the ensign - That is, of any standard or banner that they saw. They would suppose that it was the standard of an enemy. This denotes a state of great consternation, when all the princes and nobles under the command of the Assyrian would be completely dismayed.

Whose fire is in Zion ... - That is, whose altar is there, and always burns there. That was the place where he was worshipped, and it was a place, therefore, which he would defend. The meaning is, that they would be as certainly destroyed as the God whose altar was in Jerusalem was a God of truth, and would defend the place where he was worshipped.

And his furnace ... - (see the note at Isa 29:1). Where his altar continually burns. The word rendered 'furnace' (תנור tannûr) means properly a baking oven Exo 8:3; Lev 2:4; Lev 7:9; Lev 11:35. This was either a large conical pot which was heated, in which the cakes were baked at the sides; or an excavation made in the earth which was heated by putting wood in it, and when that was removed, the dough was put in it. Perhaps the whole idea here is, that Yahweh had a home in Jerusalem, with the usual appendages of a house; that his fire and his oven were there, an expression descriptive of a dwelling-place. If so, then the meaning is, that he would defend his own home, and that the Assyrian could not expect to prevail against it.

Next: Isaiah Chapter 32