Isaiah was a prophet and preacher during a time of political enthusiasm and turmoil. The Assyrians had risen as the world empire of the day. They had gained their power by terrorizing any nation that dared to stand in their way.
Other than the Assyrians, the Egyptians were the next largest military strength. Judah thought to themselves, “If we can make an alliance with Egypt, it will give us the power to defeat Assyria.”
Isaiah’s goal was to turn Judah back to having faith in God. In Isaiah 30, Isaiah responds to Judah’s decision to turn to Egypt for help, rather than to God. This text contains some important lessons for us today about the foolishness of turning to political strength for their help, rather than turning to God.
The Issue Was that of Trust
Their plan seemed flawless. “With the help of Egypt, we will protect God’s nation, and God’s enemies will be defeated.” This plan was probably applauded by the war generals and the people alike. And yet, Isaiah warned,
“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,
“Who execute a plan, but not Mine,
And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,
In order to add sin to sin;
Who proceed down to Egypt
Without consulting Me,
To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh
And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!” – Isaiah 30:1-2
Here Isaiah reveals their error. They had a plan, but their plan did not originate with God. The issue was that of trust. They trusted in Pharaoh more than they trusted in God. They were more impressed with the strength of Egypt’s army than they were with God’s strength. In the following chapter, Isaiah would go on to warn:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! – Isaiah 31.1
To misplace our faith is sin. Judah was rightfully described as rebellious and a woe was justly pronounced against them. They were, in profession, God’s holy people, but they were not acting as if they trusted in Him. Their weakness and danger was a result of their sin and idolatry, but rather than repenting, they chose to “add sin to sin.”
The Consequences of their Foolishness
Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame
And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.
For their princes are at Zoan
And their Ambassadors arrive at Hanes.
Everyone will be ashamed because of a people who cannot profit them,
Who are not for help or profit, but for shame and also for reproach. – Isaiah 30.3-6
Observe the consequences of Judah’s decision to turn to Egypt.
- The Egyptians would receive their alliance kindly. When Judah’s messengers arrived, they were given the opportunity to meet with Egypt’s princes and ambassadors. Judah loaded down their donkeys and camels with treasures (v. 6), and Egypt’s leading men welcomed their friendship and alliance with open arms.
- But, the Egyptians would be unable to live up to their expectation. They could not help or profit them. Isaiah goes on to describe their help as “vain and empty” (v. 7).
- Judah, who at one point was enamored with Egypt’s strength, would ultimately be ashamed. Their neighbors would look to God’s nation with shame and reproach. They would be ashamed of themselves. They would be ashamed for trusting in Egypt.
To the contrary, those who trust in God and in his power will never be put to shame. We must not expect too much from man, and we must not expect too little from God.
The Three Things Christians Must Know About Political Strength
- When we turn to political strength, we must acknowledge that “these are only human plans.”
Judah took counsel, and they made a plan. But it wasn’t God’s plan. God had not spoken one word to indicate that he desired for his children to make an alliance with any of the earthly nations surrounding them. Likewise, there is not one word in the New Testament that would indicate that God wants for Christians to try to use the arm of government to fix the problems in society.
The New Testament has much to say about how Christians should relate to earthly governments. Christians are to pay taxes (Rom. 13.7), submit (Rom. 13.1-7; 1 Pet. 2.13), honor their rulers (Rom. 13. 7; 1 Pet. 2.17), and pray for their rulers (1 Pet. 2.1-2). Beyond this, the New Testament is silent.
Does this mean it is wrong to hold political office? To seek laws that enforce morality? To work for the military? Is it wrong to be politically involved? Scripture is silent in response to these questions. Therefore, if we do decide to turn to political means to reform society, we must acknowledge that we came up with these plans on our own. The plans did not originate with God. We are choosing to act based off of merely human plans.
Government power at its best is limited to only the power that humans can provide. We may have the most economic influence, the latest military technology, and the strongest police force on our side to enforce our plans, but we can still only accomplish what the arm of flesh can accomplish. As long as we are acting on human counsel and human plans, there will be a limit as to how much those plans can accomplish.
Government power, at its worst, can even end up like that of Egypt, leading to shame. It may appear to be a great asset, but could very well end up backfiring, leading to increased persecution.
Before turning to political plans, we should ask ourselves, “Do I want the strength of man on my side, or do I want God’s power working along with me?” All flesh, no matter how powerful and influential, has limitations to its power.
- When we turn to political strength, we must realize “the help provided by earthly governments is inadequate.”
Judah needed help far greater than what Egypt could provide. So do we.
Our pagan society has turned increasingly wicked. No matter how many new tax laws are passed, greed continues. No matter how many prohibition laws are written, alcoholism and drug abuse continue. No matter how many checks and balances are written into the constitution to hold politicians accountable for their actions, corruption runs rampant. No matter how much blood and money is invested into the military, terrorism continues to gain strength.
Why? Because the many problems in the world are caused by sin. We are in need of strength far greater than any man or government of men can ever provide. We would do well to adopt the faith of the psalmist who wrote:
Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God. – Psalm 20:7
The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness. – Psalm 33:16-17
And we should most certainly remember the admonition of Paul,
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 2 Cor. 10.3-4
When the storm comes, our shelter will be tested. No human protection will be sufficient. No one is adequately armed unless they have God on their side.
- When we turn to political strength, we must be aware that God may view our plans as rebellious.
I wonder what kind of response Isaiah received when he first preached the lesson in Isaiah 30?
“Rebellious? That’s an awfully strong word, not to mention judgmental and offensive. I am a follower of God. I have spent my whole life studying His law, bowing in worship, and caring for the poor. I have always made it a point to live differently from the world around me. But I don’t see anything wrong with enlisting Egypt as an ally. After all, we know that God rules over the kingdoms of men, and he uses them as His ministers to serve His purposes. It may be that God plans on using Egypt to restrain Assyria’s wickedness. We still trust in God, and if Egypt can help God’s people, we should turn to them.”
In the same way, there are many today who will say, “I know government cannot redeem the world from sin, but if we can use them as a tool to correct and restrain the wicked, we should. They are, after all, described as God’s ministers for good.”
This view makes a fatal mistake. It assumes that if one believes in God, he can do whatever he or she wants to do. To the contrary, when we put our faith in God, we are obligated to live our lives and fight our battles according to the directions He has given us. When Judah used another plan of action, He viewed their plans as rebellious. Would He view our own man-made plans any differently?
When we follow where God guides, we will see that God provides. We are under God’s protection when we submit to God’s direction. When we follow our own self-designed way, we are rejecting God’s wisdom and care for us.
A short time later, perhaps in direct response to the warnings of Isaiah, King Hezekiah gave the following message; a message God’s people should continue to rely on as we fight our battles even today:
Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us to fight our battles. – 2 Chron. 32.7-8