Isaiah 31

Isaiah 31:1 Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help

“Isaiah's prophetic call required him to oppose a national pride vested in military superiority and strong alliances. Isaiah first challenged Judah's national policy in 735-733 B.C, when the Aramaean-Israelite coalition came against Jerusalem to compel Judas's alliance against Assyria. fn Isaiah's confronted King Ahaz about his plan to appeal to Assyria for help, promising that the coalition would fail in its purpose if Judah would trust in Yahweh's promises (see Isaiah. 7:1-8). Ahaz refused Isaiah's prophetic counsel, however; he sent a tribute to Tiglath-pileser and surrendered Judah's independence (see 2 Kgs. 16-17). Isaiah responded by prophesying national calamity (see Isaiah. 7:18-25, 8:5 8). Isaiah also opposed Judah's alliance with Egypt against Assyria about 714-712 B.C. Isaiah insisted that Yahweh would defend Judah and overthrow Assyria in due time if Judah would only wait (see Isaiah. 14:24-27). Dressed as a present of war, Isaiah walked through the streets of Jerusalem to symbolize the dire results of Judah's reliance on Egypt rather than Yahweh (see Isaiah. 20). Isaiah again predicted disaster for Judas's idolatrous reliance on armies and alliances with Egypt rather than waiting upon Yahweh (see Isaiah. 28:14-22, 30:1-7).

Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord! (Isa. 31:1)

“Isaiah taught that Judah's reliance upon weapons and the ways of war would bring destruction, not security. Peace would come only through righteousness and faith in Yahweh.

“Isaiah was vindicated when King Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, stood firm against the Assyrian invasion of Judah about 688 B C. Isaiah alone stood by his king in declaring that the Assyrian pride had exhausted divine patience (see Isaiah. 37:21-29). He promised that Yahweh would never allow Jerusalem to be taken by blasphemous Assyria as long as Judah placed faith in Yahweh (see Isaiah. 29:5-8, 37:33-35). Hezekiah heeded Isaiah's counsel, and the city successfully survived the Assyrian siege.”  (Violence and the Gospel: the Teachings of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon by Edwin Brown Firmage, BYU Studies, vol. 25 (1985), Number 1 - Winter 1985)

Isaiah 31:3 The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh and not spirit

Hugh Nibley

What makes a nation great? Power and gain is the answer we give today; the thing is to be number one in military and economic clout. They thought so in Isaiah's day too: Woe unto them that rely on horses and chariots because they are powerful, but "look not unto the Holy One of Israel." "The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit." (Isaiah 31:1, 3) No real security is to be gained by alliances, no sword either of the strong or of the weak power shall overcome Assyria; the Lord had his own plans for Assyria, and no one could have guessed what they were. Where does security lie? In digging the defenses of Jerusalem you are merely digging your graves! The only true defense is the calling of the priesthood in the temple. If you play the game of realistic power politics, you can't expect any but the usual reward…

When Isaiah tells the people to trust God and not Egypt, the people say that that is not realistic!... There is only one in whom you can put your trust. Assyria vanished overnight and was never heard of again, while lesser nations as ancient as Assyria who could not afford to gamble for supremacy on the winning of battles are still with us. (Old Testament and Related Studies, edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton [SLC and Provo: Deseret Book Co., FARMS, 1986], 231 - 232)

Isaiah 31:4-5 so shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion

The destruction of the Assyrian army in the days of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36-37) is a type for the way the Lord will fight for Jerusalem in the last days.  The verbs used are defend, deliver, and preserve.  Many may be unfamiliar with how the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrian troops that were about to invade Jerusalem, but it is clearly recorded in Isaiah 37 and 2 Kings 19:35.  Isaiah is prophesying of both events.  Zechariah the prophet foretells of the apocalyptic conflict in similar terms:

   In that day shall the Lord defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem…

   I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem…

   For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished…

   Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle…

   Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. (Zech. 12:8-9; 14:2-3, 12)

Isaiah 31:6 Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted

At this point, the 10 tribes to the north have already been taken because they “have deeply revolted.”  The kingdom of Judah, although better than the kingdom of Israel, has not been particularly righteous. They have not been righteous enough to deserve the protection of the Lord, but Hezekiah prays for protection and Isaiah promises it will come—not because of their righteousness—but for the Lords own purposes:

   For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. (Isaiah 37:35).

Isaiah 31:8 then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man

It sounds like the entire army died in their sleep:  The angel of the Lord went forth and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. (Isaiah 37:36).  They fell at the hand of the sword of the angel of the Lord rather than a mortal sword. The significance for the latter-days is that the Lord has promised to fight our battles:

For behold, I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion; for, as I said in a former commandment, even so will I fulfil—I will fight your battles. (D&C 105:14)

Isaiah 31:9 the ensign… whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem

Jedediah M. Grant

I wish all the “Mormons” felt as I do, there would be a flame in Zion, and a fire in Jerusalem. I say, if all the “Mormons” felt as I do about those who laugh at our distresses, and when calamities come upon us, wag their heads and say, “Ha, ha! so would we have it,” they would think there was a furnace in Zion, and a flame in Jerusalem.

I want “Mormons” to feel like “Mormons,” to feel like Saints. I want a man of God to feel fired up with the Holy Ghost, and not place his affections upon the world, and the things of the world; but love your God, and your brethren that are poor and in distress, and who love God. Those high-minded hypocrites, who bow and scrape to get your dimes, let them go to where they belong, they and their dimes; that is the way I feel about them. I like to see the Saints of God fired up to help the poor, and bring them in here to strengthen the reins of Israel. I like to see them exert themselves to send forth the Gospel, and bring from the nations those who are humble, contrite, pure, and holy, and who are uncontaminated by the vices of the world. (Journal of Discourses, 2:73)