October 21, 2014

Woe to Them that go down to Egypt for Help

Don Johnson

Isaiah 31:1 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!

A major theme of the first half of Isaiah’s prophecy is the call to Judah to put her trust in God instead of in foreign alliances. Judah lived in the shadow of the mighty (and fierce) Assyrian empire. In addition, she was beset by enemies on every side, including her estranged brethren in the northern kingdom of Israel. Great temptations lay before her — should she make alliances with foreign nations to accomplish her protection against these enemies? Could Egypt help? What about others? What about upstart Babylon?

The Christian church in North America and indeed around the world faces increasing secular pressure over key social issues. Abortion has been a hot button issue for some time. While some remain hopeful in this arena, the prospects of imminent success seem to be dim. (In Canada, the abortion battle is virtually over – there is no law limiting abortion in any way.) Homosexual acceptance and same-sex marriage are the latest battle front. The secular press leads the charge, dissent is shouted down and social revolution marches across the political landscape seemingly unimpeded.

What are Christians to do? We are not the only “interest group” opposed to wickedness on these fronts. Does it make sense for us to enlist the political strength of other religious or even secular groups that might share to some extent our “values” in these areas? Can their influence coordinated with ours actually win the day against the social revolution being forced upon us?

What is the lesson Isaiah repeatedly taught to Judah about her alliances? Don’t trust men, trust God. What does it say about the faith of God’s people when they think their survival depends on allying with God’s enemies? Throughout the first forty chapters of Isaiah, we find repeated judgements pronounced against the nations. Why did God reveal this to Judah? To teach them that God intended to use Assyrian to punish those nations (including the northern kingdom, Israel) for their wickedness. Those nations could be no help against Assyria because God intended to give those nations more than enough trouble of their own. Judah would find no help if she refused to turn to the Lord.

The first half of Isaiah closes with three historical chapters. The first speaks of the remarkable deliverance God provided from Assyria after Jerusalem was besieged. And after Lachish, probably the second largest city in Judah, had been razed. The Assyrians had swept through many of the nations surrounding Judah by this time, leaving death, destruction and captivity in its wake. They had marched through the fortified cities of Judah as well. Only Jerusalem was left (Isa 36.1). According to Assyrian records, Sennacherib boasted of taking forty-six walled cities in Judah.

You can read the details of the siege of Jerusalem in Isa 36-37 (as well as the parallel accounts in 2 Ki 18.13-19.35 and 2 Chr 32.1-23). The siege dramatically ended after Hezekiah and people of Judah realized they had nowhere else to turn, so Hezekiah spread out a threatening letter from Sennacherib and pleaded for rescue from the Lord (Isa 37.14-20). The Lord answered with a message through Isaiah to the king and the next morning, 185,000 Assyrian soldiers “woke up dead.” The Lord delivered Jerusalem by himself; he needed no strong pagan arm to aid him.

The story of the siege of Jerusalem is followed in the Bible by the record of Hezekiah’s illness and the record of a visit by Babylonian officials. What is interesting about these records is that these events had to occur before the record of the siege of Jerusalem which precedes them (in all three parallel accounts). Chronologically we have Hezekiah sick unto death, pleading with the Lord to lengthen his life. The Lord grants the request and promises fifteen more years. Should this promise have encouraged Hezekiah to trust the Lord alone prior to the siege of Jerusalem? Well, the next record is the visit with the Babylonians. Why did they come? Babylon at that time was a truculent vassal city in the Assyrian empire, about to break into rebellion against the Assyrians themselves. Was Hezekiah contemplating enlisting the strength of upstart Babylon as an aid against the Assyrians? It appears so, and why not, from the human perspective? The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?

The problem with alliances like this is God. He demanded of Judah unilateral trust. He wanted them to be independent of all pagan entanglements, no matter how pragmatic and beneficial such alliances might seem. The worldly officials of Judah might scoff at such simplistic faith, but it was the faith they were forced to in the end. When all was said and done, they had to trust God, there was no one else. An unanswerable question of the Biblical record is this: If Hezekiah and Judah had trusted God alone in all those years prior to the Assyrian invasion, would Lachish have been lost?

Returning to present concerns, what should Christians do in the face of increasing social pressure to bend to a pagan world’s will? Should Christians enter political alliances with pagan groups in order to achieve desirable political ends? Specifically, on the issue of the defense of marriage, should Christians join with Mormons in lobbying activity to get our governments to stand firm against further deterioration of marriage laws? This question is raised by a recent public appearance by a Christian leader at Mormon institutional event. Apparently, more such events are planned. We’ve raised questions about that appearance in a previous article. Kevin Bauder outlines some of the serious differences Christians have with Mormons on the doctrine of marriage in an article at Religious Affections.

What are we to think about this? Should Christians enter alliances with pagans in order to achieve spiritual ends? Do we need to? Is God not enough? If God wills to deliver America from the onslaught of perverted marriage advocates, will he not accomplish this without any help from men? We should learn the lesson of Isaiah and trust our God alone, keep busy with the tasks he has actually assigned us – evangelism and discipleship – and leave the politics to Him. At the very least, we should be resolved to be a voice for Christian (not “traditional”) marriage without the aid of pagans.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

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