Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD. Isaiah 31:1.
At the time to which these verses in Isaiah relate (not long after 705 BC), Judah, under King Hezekiah, was a vassal state of the mighty Assyrian empire; but with the death of Assyria’s king, Sargon, her dominance was being challenged by Babylon in the east and Egypt and Ethiopia in the south … and despite Isaiah’s warnings, Hezekiah had became involved in the rebellion. He thought that, with the help of Egypt, Judah could shake itself free of Assyria’s yoke.
Against that backdrop, Isaiah speaks these memorable words. And they are words which have overtones because they look back to someone else who “went down to Egypt” and had cause to regret it — Abraham, no less. In Genesis 12, we are told how, because there was famine in the land to which God had brought him, he “went down to Egypt” without consulting God and brought shame on both himself and his wife. Now Hezekiah is making the same mistake.
No wonder that “Egypt” is a byword in Scripture for this world in its independent strength and self-sufficiency set apart from and opposed to God, and no wonder that Scripture consistently warns against “going down to it”. Yet, if I’m honest, I find myself doing that all the time. When my back is against the wall, when difficulties loom, it is, more often than not, the horses and chariots of Egypt I look to — if there are any around — rather than the Lord. Have I become involved in some dispute? My first reaction is to get a good solicitor! Have I fallen sick? I go straight off to see the doctor. Has my computer crashed? I grab the manual.
Not that solicitors, doctors or any other human resources are in any way bad in themselves, and not that it may not be right and proper, under God, for me to consult them. What is wrong is if they are my first or only resource. The big issue is: Where am I putting my trust?
In the previous chapter, Isaiah reports: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'” (Isaiah 30.15). “Repentance” there is simply shubah… “turning”. And that should be my response whatever the problems or difficulties I encounter or have to face this day — an immediate turning to the Lord who loves me, a refusal to panic and to start thinking how I might sort it and what there is in “Egypt” that might help, a quiet focusing on him and his resources and strength and wisdom, and a prayer that I might know his guidance and be obedient to his will.
Trustworthy Lord, forgive me for all the times I go down to Egypt instead of looking up to you. Help me, this day, to make you my first resource for all my needs. Amen.