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Trust and Mistrust – Isaiah 31

Read the Passage: Isaiah 31

Error of Mistrust (31:1–3)

Generally speaking, in Isaiah 28–33 God is confronting Israel for their self-reliance, their dependence upon others, and their lack of trust in Him. More specifically, in Isaiah 30–31 God warns the people about their tendency to rely upon Egypt for help. Note the irony of Israel looking to their former captors for deliverance. Indeed, in Scripture Egypt stands for sin and bondage, not for liberty and freedom. Biblically defined, true freedom is not the ability to do whatever we desire to do; rather, it is the opportunity to do that for which we were designed to do—that is, to worship God and to enjoy Him forever. Rather than looking to Egypt for deliverance from the Assyrians, the Israelites should have repented of their sins and heeded the words of David in Ps. 20:7, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (cf. Ps. 33:16–17).

Isa. 31:1 is the fifth of six “woes” that Isaiah pronounces in this section of his book (cf. Isa. 28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 33:1). Israel would experience woe, writes Isaiah, not just because they looked to Egypt for help, but because they “did not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord” (Isa. 31:1). Indeed, it is not inherently wrong to prudently prepare for trials. However, it is sinful to not recognize, as Solomon wrote, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord” (Prov. 21:31). This is helpful advice coming from Solomon, who himself had erred in accumulating many, many horses from Egypt (cf. 1 Ki. 10:28–29), contrary to God’s instructions at Deut. 17:16, “But the king shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’”

Assurance of Deliverance (31:4–5)

Although the book of Isaiah continually warns Israel about the coming judgment, it also frequently appeals to Israel to repent. In Isa. 31:4–5 God promises to defend His people with the idea that they would repent of their sins and rely solely on Him for deliverance. In this passage Isaiah specifically mentions “Mount Zion” (Isa. 31:4) and “Jerusalem” (Isa. 31:5); yet, by implication the promises here apply to all of God’s people. God’s care for and jealously over His people can be seen in the two illustrations Isaiah uses here—that is, a lion and a bird. First, Isaiah notes that God’s care for Israel is like a young lion circling its prey who will not be distracted or deterred by shepherds summoned again it (cf. Isa. 38:13; Lam. 3:10; Hos. 5:14; 3:8). Second, Isaiah writes that God’s concern for His own people is like that of a mother bird hovering over her fledglings. Observe that much later Jesus would use this same exact illustration at Matt. 23:37.

Call to Repentance (31:6–9)

God’s call to His people to repent is crystal clear in Isa. 31:6, as Isaiah writes, “Return to Him against whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.” It is important for us to remember that behind God’s warnings of judgment is His desire that mankind repent of his sins and return to Him. Note that in Isa. 31:7 Isaiah writes prophetically about “that day,” which is a reference to the Day of the Lord when Christ will return to judge mankind. In “that day,” writes Isaiah, man will realize the error of his ways, as idols have no power to deliver from the wrath of God (cf. Isa. 40:18–28; 44:9–20; Jer. 10:1–10). Later, in writing about idols and idol worshipers, Isaiah teaches, “A deceived heart has turned him aside and he cannot deliver his soul” (Isa. 44:20). In a similar manner, Jeremiah writes, “They are altogether dull-hearted and foolish, a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine” (Jer. 10:8).

In Isa. 31:8–9 God focuses specifically upon the pressing concern in Isaiah’s day—that is, the threat of attack by Assyria. Here God declares, “Assyria shall fall by a sword . . . he shall flee” (Isa. 31:8). This would be fulfilled when God sent his angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian troops encamped against Jerusalem (cf. 2 Kings 19; Isa. 37:36–37). Note that God would eventually use the Babylonians to overpower the Assyrian empire. The destruction of Assyria would ultimately be by “a sword not of man . . . a sword not of mankind” (Isa. 31:8). As Daniel later taught, “God changes the times and seasons, He removes kings and raises up kings” (Dan. 2:21). Indeed, Christ is “the stone . . . cut out of the mountain without hands” (Dan. 2:45). Be encouraged as Daniel teaches that God’s Kingdom shall overtake all earthly nations and it “shall never be destroyed . . . it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).

Application Questions:

  1. When faced with material needs, how can we balance man’s preparations with God’s promises? Is planning and foresight a mark of one’s lack of faith and trust in God?
  2. When faced with trials and suffering in the fallen world, to what or to whom do you look for security and deliverance?
  3. Can you testify to a time in your life when you relied upon God, rather than upon your own resources, and saw deliverance from God’s hand?
  4. Given God’s history of delivering Israel, as well as the heartache that sin always causes, why did God’s people not return to Him when called to repent?
  5. What types of idols are most-often worshiped in the contemporary culture (e.g., money, sex, power, reputation, sports, etc.)?
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