Today’s Passage: Isaiah 31
God’s still going on about the Egypt thing–still admonishing the nation of Israel for allying with Egypt for protection and failing to trust the Lord of Creation. Get it together, Israel! Get it all together, put it in a backpack, all of it, so it’s together!
This chapter emphasizes the contrast between God’s power and man’s. The Egyptians rely on horses, horsemen, and chariots, but “do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord” (31:1). Physical military forces may be strong, but their power can’t match that of the God who created them and their wielders. Isaiah observes, “But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit” (31:3), and soon after that he adds, “Assyria will fall by no human sword; a sword, not of mortals, will devour them” (31:8). And by my interpretation, the power and tools of these foreign nations aren’t inherently evil–but the Egyptians and Assyrians put them to use for wicked purposes (as “that wicked nation…those who help evildoers” (31:2)), and consequently God opposes them. How can they hope to stand against him? And how can God’s people hope to find safety in the strength of those whom the almighty Creator opposes?
Initially, I assumed the “wicked nation” of verse 2 was the kingdom of Judah, but now it seems more likely that it’s Egypt, who is the focus of vv.1-3. And we have another bit about lions here: “As a lion growls, a great lion over its prey…so the Lord Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights” (31:4). By analogy, God is like a lion that’s surrounded by shepherds but couldn’t care less, because the lion’s power is so great. And, thinking the focus of the chapter was judgment against Judah for trusting Egypt, I thought to myself: “How ironic that God himself, called ‘the Lion of Judah,’ here is the ‘Lion against Judah!”
But it turns out I was a bit off-base. In the very next verse, Isaiah says, “[T]he Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem” (31:5). Even if we assume that verse 2’s “wicked nation” may be interpreted as Judah in addition to Egypt, God is still promising to preserve the capitol of Jerusalem (which I believe may be taken to represent the whole nation of Judah by way of synecdoche). Moreover, God isn’t referred to as “the Lion of Judah” until late in the game in Revelation 5:5. My point would have been an anachronism! In fact, the lion is the symbol of Judah, having been associated with the tribe since Jacob described his son Judah as a lion in Genesis 49:9. I don’t think the point of the lion imagery in this chapter of Isaiah indicates that God has turned his power against his people–on the contrary, through simile, God is assuming the form of the symbol of Judah itself! God is telling his people: even if you disobey me, I’m on your side.
Which isn’t to say there won’t be consequences. In previous chapters we’ve seen plenty of prophetic judgments for Israel’s trust in Egypt. But God the lion will go to bat for the lion that is Judah. Apparently lions play baseball.