Mercy Amidst Chaos

Bible Book: Isaiah  31 : 1-9
Subject: Mercy; Price of Sin; Protection of God

Isaiah 31:1-9

Although the events described in today’s passage of Scripture occurred hundreds of years ago, the truths that come into focus are timeless, and apply to every one of our lives. I have entitled this lesson “Mercy Amidst Chaos,” and I would like us to study this brief chapter under four headings.


vs 1  “ Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!”

The brutal, powerful Assyrian army had invaded Judah and captured all their fortified cities except Jerusalem [2 Kings 18:13 ff.], and now the Assyrians were threatening Jerusalem. That struck great fear into the hearts of those living there. They could envision what would happen if the Assyrians succeeded. It would mean widespread death and destruction, and those who weren’t killed would be taken away as captives or else remain in the land as slaves, subject to all sorts of humiliation and abuse.

So this was a major crisis. Their army was no match for the Assyrian forces. Their logical, wise response would have been to turn to the Lord, who had delivered them time and time again from past threats, but instead they foolishly turned to Egypt, whose armed forces included horse-drawn chariots driven by highly trained warriors.

Their unfaithfulness was in stark contrast to the faith David expressed in Psalm 20:7: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”

This does not mean that armies and weapons of war are not valuable assets for a nation. A key word in verse 1 is “consult.” The leaders of Judah should have consulted the Lord as to how to deal with the threat from Assyria. We know from other Scriptures that sometimes God did use armies and weapons as his instruments, but in other cases he brought deliverance to his people in different ways, and this was going to be one of those “other” cases. However, instead of consulting God and seeking his direction, the leaders of Judah just plunged ahead on the assumption that military might would be the means of resisting Assyria, and that Egypt would be their deliverer.

vss 2-3  “2 And yet he is wise and brings disaster; he does not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. 3 The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together.”

Isaiah refers to the people of Judah as “evildoers” and “those who work iniquity.”The record shows that they were guilty of numerous sins, but the sin being especially highlighted here is their lack of faith. Centuries later Paul wrote in Romans 14:23 that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Isaiah was saying, “You thought you were wise in turning to Egypt for help, but actually you were foolish. The wise thing would have been to turn to God for help.”

As He said he would, God punished both nations for their sinfulness. In 605 B.C. the Babylonians crushed the once mighty Egyptian Empire, and then in 586 B.C. the Babylonians invaded Judah, taking great numbers of the Jews captive and transporting them to Babylon.

There are powerful lessons here for you and me. When we face any kind of crisis, our first response should be to “consult” the Lord. He might lead us to some human resource for help, or he might not—but we should seek his guidance as to how to proceed. Proverbs 3:5-7: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.”

The other lesson—an exceedingly sobering one—is that sooner or later we will reap the consequences of our sins. Numbers 32:23 says, “be sure your sin will find you out,” and Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”


When our twins were about 4 years old, Dan misbehaved one day in a way that greatly upset his mother. Before making him go stay in his room, Connie read the riot act to him. She was really disappointed with his behavior, and let him know it. He had committed a real “no, no!” After a little while she could hear him singing, and she eased up to the closed door to listen. He sang, “Jesus loves me when I’m good, when I do the things I should; Jesus loves me when I’m bad, but it makes him very sad.” As you can imagine, Connie’s heart melted upon hearing Dan sing those words.

Although I’m confident that Dan didn’t understand the full depth of those words, the fact is that that little chorus contains a profound truth— and that is that in spite of our sinfulness, God never stops loving us—and, more than that, he continues to show mercy toward us, expressing that mercy according to his wisdom and his sovereign will in each individual situation. 

In this case of Assyria threatening to invade Jerusalem, God told King Hezekiah and his people that he wasn’t going to let it happen, but would protect Jerusalem from the Assyrian forces.

He illustrated his promised protection in two ways: first, look at verse 4: “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.”

Just like a powerful, fierce lion stands over its prey and is not in the slightest fazed or disturbed by the frantic efforts of shepherds to frighten it away, God promised to stand over Jerusalem and protect that sacred city from the efforts of the Assyrians to take it over. Interestingly, Revelation 5:5 speaks of Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.”

The second illustration God uses is seen in verse 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.” 

His protection of Jerusalem would be like a mother bird hovering over her young. That same idea is seen in Psalm 91:4: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”

When God provides protection, there is no force in all the universe that can penetrate God’s wall of defense. Psalm 12:5 (NIV), “‘Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.’”

What a lesson for you and me! Again, that isn’t to say that God doesn’t want us to use the resources that he has placed at our disposal for protection. Indeed, God often works through human instrumentality. Thank the Lord for our heroic military personnel, police officers, fire fighters, and others who guard our communities and our nation. 

Nor is that to say that we shouldn’t use common sense measures to protect our own lives and the lives of our families. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with learning self-defense skills, installing home security systems, and using other safety measures. But the point is, while utilizing all appropriate common-sense means of safeguarding our lives and property, and while maintaining a strong military, at the same time we are to look ultimately to Almighty God for protection, both physical and certainly spiritual. 

I love this line from “My Country, ’Tis of Thee”: “Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King!”


Although the people of Judah had allowed their lives to become woefully contaminated with sin, and as a result had brought God’s punishment upon themselves, God offered them the opportunity to be cleansed and purified. 

Here is God’s challenge to the people, given through Isaiah the prophet: verses 6-7: “6 Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted. 7 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.”

Here’s how Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message (MSG), renders those two verses: “Repent, return, dear Israel, to the One you so cruelly abandoned. On the day you return, you’ll throw away—every last one of you—the no-gods your sinful hands made from metal and wood.”

Verse 7 speaks of “that day.” Some interpreters see that as a reference to “end times” events, when the Lord will return in his glory and pour out his wrath upon evildoers, and after a period of great tribulation set up his millennial kingdom with headquarters in Jerusalem. They see it as being connected with Isaiah 2:1-22, which definitely does contain references to that future time.

But be that as it may, it seems evident to me that the primary reference in verses 6-7 is to Isaiah’s contemporaries, to the purification of their lives that will occur on “that day” that they are willing to respond to God’s challenge to repent and return to him. A similar challenge is given in Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Isaiah is implying that in light of the mercy God had shown to them in so many ways on so many occasions, they should, out of gratitude, repent and return to the Lord.

Years ago I had just conducted a funeral and was riding to the cemetery with the funeral director. When I shared the gospel with him and asked him about his personal relationship with the Lord, he assured me that everything was fine between him and God—but the only reason he ever gave for that assurance was the fact that during the war God had protected him during combat. He never made any reference to Jesus on the cross, or to repentance and faith.

I tried, as tactfully as I knew how, to help him consider the possibility that God might have protected him not because he was okay spiritually, but maybe because he was not okay, and to give him further opportunity to get right. I reminded him of Romans 2:4: “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

God’s mercy should always motivate us to examine our lives and get right with him or to seek a closer walk with him. James 4:8, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” 1 John 3:3, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

Because God’s promise to protect Jerusalem was given so early on, some interpreters have assumed—mistakenly, in my opinion—that his promise of protection was unrelated to any response on the part of his people. It should be remembered, though, that God foreknows all that is going to happen—and in this case he foreknew that many would repent, and that Hezekiah and others would cry out for mercy and deliverance (as described in detail elsewhere), and he had predetermined that he woulds answer those prayers by protecting their beloved city.


In verses 8-9 we read of something phenomenal—something unusual, astonishing, miraculous, that God is going to do—something totally unexpected by the Assyrian would-be invaders.

Vs 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.”

God says that the Assyrians will be slain, not by the sword of any General or highly trained warrior—indeed, not by the sword of any man, but, rather—as we learn from other accounts—it would be by the sword of an avenging angel. Those not slain would flee, and be “discomfited”—apparently meaning, in this case, that they would be subjected to overwhelming pressure, resulting in their being somehow crushed. 

Vs 9  “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 Hebrew word for “ensign” can also be translated “sign.” Apparently this verse means that the Assyrian leader and his officers not slain by the avenging angel would flee in terror from some sort of frightening “sign” from God. 

This solemn prediction is from God himself, whose outpoured wrath is like obliterating flames. Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” and Hebrews 12:29 warns, “For our God is a consuming fire.”

(The details of what happened to Sennacherib and his army are described in 2 Kings18:13-19:37; 2 Chronicles 32:21-22; and Isaiah 37:36-38)

Recently I read of something that happened in July, 2014, that greatly impressed me. 

It happened in Israel. In spite of a constant barrage of missiles fired at Israel by Hamas, there have been remarkably few civilian casualties. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system detects each incoming missile, calculates its trajectory, and fires a rocket at the missile. The Iron Dome system is effective 90 percent of the time, and, fortunately, the 10 percent of missiles that get through generally don’t result in extensive damage.

On July 27, 2014, a missile was fired from Gaza. Immediately calculating its trajectory, the Iron Dome operator saw with alarm that the missile was going to hit either the Azrieli Towers, the Kirya—Israel’s equivalent to the U.S. Pentagon—or a major Tel Aviv railway station. Hundreds could have died.

The Iron Dome commander immediately took appropriate action. As he later reported the incident, he said, “We fired the first interceptor, but it missed. Then we fired a second interceptor and it also missed.” The commander said it was extremely rare for a second interceptor to miss, and he was in shock. Continuing his account, he said, “At this point we had just four seconds until the missile lands. We had already notified emergency services to converge on the target location and had warned of a multi-casualty incident.”

But then something phenomenal and totally unexpected happened. With only four seconds to go, a mighty wind came from nowhere and diverted the missile into the sea. The Iron Dome commander said, “I witnessed this miracle with my own eyes. It was not told or reported to me. I saw the hand of God send that missile into the sea.” 1

God thwarted the Assyrians’ efforts to destroy Jerusalem, and caused a phenomenal, miraculous, thing to occur. He brought about an outcome that was totally unexpected by these heathen forces—an outcome that brought glory to his holy name, and relief to the residents of the holy city.

He still can and does bring about phenomenal, miraculous outcomes, whenever it is his will to do so. So, you and I should always keep that in mind in times of crisis, and not just assume the worst. We should always remember such promises as Jeremiah 32:7, 33:3, Ephesians 3:20, and Isaiah 41:10: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

If our lives are anchored trustfully and obediently to the Lord Jesus Christ, and if we “consult” with God in every challenge of life and respond accordingly, we will be winners, however the world views the outcome.  


1 From an article by Mark Ellis, dated August 20, 2014, on his website