Isaiah 31:1-9

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31:1. Masoretic Text: Woe to those going down to Mizraim [Egypt] for help, who rely on horses and trust in chariots because [they are] many, and in horsemen because they are very strong. And they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, and they do not seek YHWH.

Septuagint: Woe to those going down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses and on chariots because they are many, and on horses — an exceeding multitude. And they did not rely on the Holy One of Israel, and God they did not seek.

In the Masoretic Text, there is no preposition (“to”) before Mizraim; it is understood. The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, however, does include the preposition. Both in the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the word for “chariot” is a collective singular; only in the scroll does the definite article precede the word. The preposition before “Holy One” is ‘al (“on” or “upon”) in the Masoretic Text, but ’el (“toward” or “to”) in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.


Faced with the Assyrian threat, the leaders in the kingdom of Judah sought military assistance from Egypt. Woe is pronounced upon them for taking this faithless course that would not succeed. Instead of putting their trust in the Holy One of Israel to aid them in any confrontation with the Assyrians and seeking him for guidance through his prophets, they chose to rely on horses, chariots, and horsemen. They thought that the large number of horses, chariots, and horsemen available from Egypt in battling against the Assyrians would safeguard their security.

31:2. Masoretic Text: And yet he [is] wise and will bring evil, and his words he will not call back. And he will rise up against the house of evildoers and against the help of those working iniquity.

Septuagint: And he [is] wise; he brought evils upon them, and by no means would his word be invalidated. And he will rise up against the houses of wicked men, and against their vain hope.

The rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”


The Judean leaders considered themselves as very astute because of their plan to counter the Assyrian threat with the help of the Egyptian military. Foolishly, they ignored YHWH, the all-wise God who could truly help and protect them. Accordingly, there appears to be a tone of irony in the words, “And yet he [is] wise.” Because the leaders of the people and the nation generally disregarded YHWH, he determined to bring “evil” or calamity upon them. His “words” respecting this would not be “called back,” set at naught, or invalidated. In the Septuagint, the thought is expressed as a past development, but the meaning is the same.

YHWH had decreed that he would rise up against the “house of evildoers” or the faithless ones who defiantly refused to follow his way. The “help” on which these workers of iniquity relied was the Egyptian military. They were workers of iniquity because they acted contrary to YHWH’s word or message through his prophets. Egypt (more specifically, the horses, chariots, and horsemen from there) was, as the Septuagint says, “their hope.” That hope was “vain” or worthless, for the assistance of Egypt would not end Assyrian aggression.

31:3. Masoretic Text: And the Egyptians [are] men [’adhám] and not God, and their horses [are] flesh and not spirit. And YHWH will stretch out his hand, and the one helping will stumble, and the one being helped will fall, and together all will perish.

Septuagint: An Egyptian [is] a man and not God. Flesh of horses, and [there] is no help. But the Lord will strike with his hand against them, and those helping will become weary, and together all will perish.

The Hebrew word ’adhám, meaning “man” or “earthling,” is a collective singular.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” does not precede the last phrase (“together all will perish”).


The Egyptians were earthlings, mere mortals, not the immortal God. Egyptian horses were frail flesh, not the invincible, indestructible spirit that originates from the all-powerful God YHWH. The folly of looking to the Egyptians and their horses would be forcefully revealed when YHWH stretches out his hand to strike or reveal his power at the time he executes judgment. The Judeans who were being assisted would then stumble, experiencing a calamitous crash. The Egyptians who were rendering aid would fall. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, they would grow weary, losing their capacity to help. Thus those being assisted and those giving aid would perish.

31:4. Masoretic Text: For thus said YHWH to me, Just as the lion growls, and the young lion, over its prey (when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against it, [the lion] will not be terrified by their shouting and not be cowed by their clamor), so will YHWH of hosts come down to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.

Septuagint: For thus said the Lord to me, In the manner the lion or the cub might roar over the prey that it has seized, and might growl over it until the mountains are filled with its sound (and they [the game animals] were vanquished and were terrified at the fullness of wrath), thus the Lord Sabaoth will come down to march on [epí] Mount Zion, on [epí] its mountains.

The Hebrew word for “prey” is plural in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.

“Sabaoth” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word that means “hosts” or “armies.”

The Greek preposition epí can also denote “against,” and a number of translations of the Septuagint represent God as descending to march against Mount Zion. In view of the reference to divine protection and deliverance in the next verse, however, it appears preferable to regard his marching to be “on Mount Zion” and, therefore, for the purpose of defending it. This also would agree with the extant Hebrew text. While the Septuagint rendering conveys the same basic thought, no mention is made of shepherds but the focus is on the effect the lion has on its prey.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, the divine action is represented as revealing that the “kingdom of YHWH of hosts” exists on Mount Zion.


Once a lion has firm hold on its prey (a sheep or a goat), a great number of shepherds will usually not be able to recover the seized animal. The shepherds may shout loudly, but the tumultuous sound will not frighten the lion into releasing its prey. In the same manner, YHWH of hosts, the God with hosts of angels in his service, is represented as not permitting enemy forces to seize Mount Zion or the elevated site of Jerusalem.

31:5. Masoretic Text: Like birds flying, so will YHWH of hosts defend Jerusalem. Defending, he will also deliver [it]; passing [it] over, he will also cause it to slip away [from the enemy].

Septuagint: Like birds flying, thus will the Lord protect Jerusalem, and he will deliver and preserve and save.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” precedes the expression here translated “passing over.” Instead of a word that can be rendered “slip away,” “escape,” or “flee to safety” (malát), this scroll has a form of the term for “save” or “bring to safety” (phalát).

The Targum of Isaiah represents the manner in which a bird flies swiftly to be the way in which YHWH of hosts would reveal his might over Jerusalem, protecting, delivering, rescuing, and setting it free.


Birds may fly away to distract predators from their nests or resort to dive-bombing flight to safeguard their nests and territories. As birds fly to protect their offspring, so YHWH (the God with hosts of angels in his service) would shield Jerusalem, “passing it over” or sparing it from falling into enemy hands and making it possible for the city to escape conquest. The Septuagint adds that he would preserve the city.

31:6. Masoretic Text: Turn to him from whom they went deep [into] rebellion, O sons of Israel.

Septuagint: Turn, you who counsel deep and lawless counsel.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the expression here rendered “to him from whom” is repeated.

The Targum of Isaiah refers to the turning as a returning to the law against which the Israelites had seriously transgressed.


Deeply or to an extreme degree, the people or “sons” of Israel had rebelled against YHWH, disregarding his law and his words directed to them through his prophets. Therefore, they needed to abandon their wayward course and return to him.

The Septuagint rendering suggests that the turning is away from the wrong course, for the counsel or plan the people had devised was lawless and “deep.” In view of its being called “lawless,” the deep or inscrutable counsel would have been of a low or debased nature.

31:7. Masoretic Text: For in that day, a man [’ish (“man,” a collective singular with a plural verb)] will throw away his silver idols and his gold idols, which your hands have made for you — sin.

Septuagint: For in that day, the men will renounce their handmade things, the things of silver and the things of gold, which their hands have made.


In the day or at the time the people would repentantly turn to YHWH, they would abandon idolatry, discarding images of silver and gold. These images, fashioned by human hands, were the objects of sin. Involvement in idolatry was an act of disloyalty to YHWH to whom the Israelites were to be exclusively devoted by the covenant he had concluded with them at Mount Sinai. Accordingly, the committing of sin was the sole purpose for making idols.

31:8. Masoretic Text: And Asshur [the Assyrian] will fall by a sword (not of man [’ish]) and a sword (not of man [’adhám]) will consume him, and he will flee from the face of a sword, and his young men will be for forced labor.

Septuagint: And Assur [the Assyrian] will fall. Not a man’s [andrós] sword nor a human [ánthropos] sword will consume him, and he will not flee from the face of a sword, but the young men will be for overthrow.

The two different Hebrew words for “man” (’ish and ’adhám) are here used as parallel expressions. In the Septuagint, the word difference is preserved.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the phrase about fleeing is represented as negative (“not from the face of a sword”). This corresponds to the extant reading of the Septuagint.


Neither Egypt’s military might nor any other human agency would bring an end to the Assyrian threat. A source far higher than man would cause the Assyrian to fall. In the fulfillment, the warring action is attributed to YHWH’s angel, striking down 185,000 of the Assyrian host in one night. (2 Kings 19:35) The portrayal of the elimination of the Assyrian threat is prophetically expressed in terms of warfare. Therefore, the defeat is depicted as involving flight and the capture of strong young men who would be submitted to slavish labor.

The Septuagint rendering (which has the support of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah) about not fleeing “from the face of the sword” could signify not fleeing from the sword like that which warriors would be wielding in battle. On account of battle action originating from a source superior to that of humans, even the strong young men would not escape but be among the vanquished.

31:9. Masoretic Text: And his rock will pass away in terror, and his princes will be dismayed by a standard, says YHWH, whose light [is] in Zion and whose furnace [is] in Jerusalem.

Septuagint: For by a rock they will be surrounded as by a palisade, and they will be overcome, but the one fleeing will be captured. Thus says the Lord, Fortunate [is] the one who has a seed in Zion and relatives in Jerusalem.

The Targum of Isaiah interprets the “light” as being the splendor or majesty of YHWH for those who observe the law, whereas the burning furnace is for the transgressors.


The “rock” of the Assyrian, particularly of the monarch, could denote his mighty military force. This war machine appeared invincible, like a lofty crag, but the “rock” would be seized and pass away in terror (as reportedly happened to 185,000 Assyrian warriors in one night [2 Kings 19:35]). The sight of the standard or raised signal appears to be represented as causing the Assyrian princes or military commanders to become dismayed or frightened.

The “standard” seemingly stands for YHWH’s side of the conflict. “Their commanders will be terrified when they see God’s battle flag.” (NCV) The words have also been interpreted to mean the Assyrian’s own standard. “His officers desert the standard in panic.” (ESV) This significance seems less likely, for the Hebrew expression in the text does not mean “desert in panic.”

Being the location of the temple, Zion or Jerusalem was the place where YHWH resided in a representative sense. His light may here be representative of fire, and this is the common rendering of many translations. It appears that divine wrath is likened to the fire in a furnace, a fire that proceeds from Jerusalem and consumes the attackers.

The Septuagint rendering suggests that the Assyrians would be hemmed in as when a craggy height blocks all avenue of escape. Their situation would be comparable to being encompassed by a palisade. Defeat would be certain, and even the one initially able to flee would end up being caught. God is then said to pronounce fortunate, happy, or blessed the person with offspring in Zion and relatives in Jerusalem. This may be understood to indicate that an individual’s direct descendants and other close relatives would have been divinely approved residences in Zion or Jerusalem, God’s representative place of dwelling. There they would be enjoying his protection and blessing.