This chapter is a summary of, or an appendix to, the previous chapter. It begins with a woe oracle: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help,” which was a central focus of Chapter 30. This is followed by a call for repentance, again summarizing an important theme from Chapter 30: “Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.” This chapter ends with a call to turn from idolatry: “Cast away [your] idols of silver, and [your] idols of gold,” and “the LORD of hosts [will] come down to fight for mount Zion.” For the latter days Egypt is a keyword meaning America, as Isaiah developed in chapters 18 through 20.
Verses 1 through 3 are a woe oracle. Verse 1 begins: “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!” Stay on” means “rely on.”1 Those who put their trust in the arm of flesh, placing their confidence in the power of armies, will fall.
Verse 1 contains a chiasm:
A: (1) Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help;
B: and stay
C: on horses,
D: and trust
E: in chariots, because they are many;
E: and in horsemen, because they are very strong;
D: but they look not
C: unto the Holy One of Israel,
B: neither seek
A: the LORD!
In this chiasm, elements on the ascending side contrast with elements on the descending side. “Egypt” is contrasted with “the LORD;” confidence should be placed in the Lord, not in the military strength of Egypt. “Horses” is contrasted with “the Holy One of Israel,” again illustrating misplaced confidence.
Verse 2 continues the woe oracle: “Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words: but will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the help of them that work iniquity.” The Lord is wise, will bring calamity upon evildoers, and will not renounce His words. The last phrase, “against the help of those who work iniquity,” means that when evildoers come to the aid of other evildoers, the Lord will intervene against both.
The Lord, in Doctrine and Covenants, expands upon the concept of His not calling back His words:
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.2
Verse 3 finalizes the woe oracle, describing the curse: “Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.” For “and not God,” the Hebrew meaning is “gods” or “men of might and rank.”3 “Holpen” is an archaic rendition of “helped.”4 Israel should put her trust in God, not Egypt. All will fall because of their reliance upon the arm of flesh.
Verse 4 presents a simile that illustrates the Lord’s willingness to defend the righteous: “For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof.” The Lord will be fearless and powerful as a lion in defending Zion.
“Mount Zion” as used in verse 4 has several meanings—the latter-day spiritual gathering as well as latter-day Jerusalem under righteous conditions. The Lord provides a definition: “…for this is Zion—the pure in heart….”5 Other meanings may also be discerned.6
Verses 2 through 4 contain a chiasm:
A: (2) Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words:
B: but will arise
C: against the house of the evildoers,
D: and against the help
E: of them that work iniquity.
F: (3) Now the Egyptians are men, and not God;
F: and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand,
E: both he that helpeth
D: shall fall,
C: and he that is holpen
B: shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.
A: (4) For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me….
“His words” is complementary to “thus hath the LORD spoken unto me,” designating whose words will not be called back. “The house of the evildoers” complements “he that is holpen [helped],” meaning Israel who had sought help from Egypt. The Lord will arise against those who do evil, placing their confidence in Egypt’s military strength rather than seeking help from the Lord.
Verse 5 continues the description of the Lord’s protection of the righteous, here with another simile: “As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.” The meaning of “Jerusalem” here is the larger sense—the Lord’s righteous people; it is used by Isaiah as a synonym for “Zion” in the previous verse. “As birds flying” and “passing over” may indicate that Isaiah witnessed aerial warfare in vision.7
Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm:
A: (4) …he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight
B: for mount Zion,
B: and for the hill thereof.
A: (5) As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem….
“So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight” is equivalent to “so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem;” and “mount Zion” matches “the hill thereof.” Although the Lord will rise up against apostate Israel, He promises to defend mount Zion. Purging and punishment of Israel are necessary steps in the ultimate triumph of Zion and the covenant people of Israel.
In verse 6, Isaiah challenges: “Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.”8 This is knowing rejection—not out of ignorance—of the Lord’s leadership of Israel as a nation. 9
In verse 7, the day of Israel’s repentance is described: “For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin.” The Lord will defend Israel after she has repented, casting away her idols; making and worshiping idols is serious sin.
Verses 8 and 9 describe the fall of Assyria by the hand of the Lord, which stands as a type for the fall of the wicked in the latter days. Verse 8 commences: “Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited.”10 “Not of a mighty man” and “not of a mean man” mean that it will not be by men, but by the hand of the Lord.11 “Discomfited” means “defeated” or “disarrayed.”12
Verse 9 concludes: “And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.” The Assyrians, and their modern analog, will be struck with terror as they flee from the destructive power of the Lord. “Zion” means both a place of latter-day spiritual gathering and the temple at Jerusalem.13 “Fire” and “furnace” both refer to the fires of destruction that await the wicked in the latter days, thus protecting the righteous.14
Verses 4 through 9 contain a chiasm:
A: (4) …so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. (5) As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.
B: (6) Turn ye unto him from whom
C: the children of Israel
D: have deeply revolted.
E: (7) For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver,
E: and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you
D: for a sin.
C: (8) Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited. (9) And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign,
B: saith the LORD,
A: whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.
“…so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof” matches “whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem,” indicating that the Lord will destroy the wicked by fire to protect the righteous. At the time of the destruction of Assyria and its modern equivalent, every man will recognize the hand of the Lord in the deliverance of Zion and Jerusalem and will cast away his idols of gold and silver.
1. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 8172, p. 1043.
2. Doctrine and Covenants 1:38.
3. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 410, p. 42.
4. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 350.
5. Doctrine and Covenants 97:21.
6. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 29:8; 30:19; 31:9; 51:3.
7. See Isaiah 7:18-19 and pertinent commentary.
8. Verses 5 and 6 contain a chiasm: The LORD of hosts/defending also he will deliver it/passing over he will preserve it/turn ye unto him.
9. See Isaiah 30:9-11.
10. Verse 8 contains a chiasm: Assyrian fall with the sword/not of a mighty man/not of a mean man/he shall flee from the sword.
11. See Isaiah 10:34, 14:24-28 and pertinent commentary; also 2 Kings 19:32-37.
12. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1988, p. 361.
13. See Isaiah 3:16; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 29:8; 30:19; 31:4; 51:3.
14. See 1 Nephi 22:7; 2 Nephi 30:10; Ether 4:9.