The fifth woe. A continuation of warning against false
So deep-seated in every heart is the tendency to false confidence, that in this short chapter we have a strong reiteration of the warning with even a "woe" pronounced upon it. Alas, it is inherent in everyone of us, and as long as that blood we have derived from our first father, Adam, flows in our veins, we each have the danger of that "woe" being on us, for we each have our "Egypt." Dependence on this results, first, in evidencing that we know very little of our God as revealed in Christ, and then complete disappointment. This really characterizes Christendom today. To our statesmen, infantry and cavalry are tangible and practical, their power and effect can be estimated, but "God" is little more than a word, and those who place any confidence in an intangible word, are surely unpractical visionaries! So speaks the confider in Egypt.
In our chapter, mark, it is not primarily against Egypt itself that this woe is pronounced, but against the Hebrews for depending on that "Egypt." You will note too that the road to Egypt is always a "going down," a descent, a lowering of moral standing and dignity, for man's place of trust is the Heart of God as revealed in His beloved Son, and of course, to leave that must be a descent. But we must also remember that no one can "believe in God" in that trustful way apart from the Lamb, as that excellent scholar in the school of God, Peter, tells us: "Who by Him do believe in God"; i.e., apart from Christ as the Lamb of God, there can be no nestling faith in God. But let us look at our chapter:
1: Woe unto them who to Egypt go downValuable indeed are all these Old Testament prophecies even in throwing light on the symbols of our book of Revelation. In the fifth trumpet the locusts that came out of the smoke from the bottomless pit were in shape as horses, while in the following trumpet we see a host of horses (Rev. 9:7, 16). Beyond all controversy, in the Old Testament these "horses" speak clearly of a false confidence, as in Psalm 20:7. Why then should not the same figure tell the same story and be so interpreted in the prophetic book of symbols in the New? "Some trust in chariots and some in horses," will be the bold cry of the Remnant of Israel in a day near at hand, "but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" (Ps. 20:7).
Note the strong irony in the first line of verse 2. Jehovah says that He too is not altogether without wisdom, nor fears comparison with Egypt. Thus He will be against both the helped and the helpers, or both the apostate mass of false profession, and that in which they trust; or specifically against "False Prophet" as well as "Beast," for there is an alliance between them, and the former honors the latter as the god of forces (Dan. 11:38). This throws light on ver. 4, where we have a parabolic picture. We see a young lion growling over its prey;2 a company of shepherds are approaching with the evident purpose of taking away his food. Neither their numbers nor noise affright him, and in this picture Jehovah places Himself. The scene is perfectly clear, but the application can hardly be so called. Let us then go on the safe principle of discerning what is certain, and then make anything as to which there may be a question to conform to this. First, there can be no question as to its being a parable, and as such we must be careful not to stretch it beyond its intent, which may lie in one single feature, and to go further than that may lead to serious mistake. It would next appear equally sure that the fearless lion pictures Jehovah Himself, who has "come down" to contend with some foe. These two points, the parable and the identity of the fearless lion, are, I believe, the certainties. Then the question comes up: Against whom does Jehovah fight? Never against faith, never against the penitent remnant of His people, but here against "the helpers and the helped" of ver. 3, in whom we can discern the allied forces made up of Gentiles and apostate Jews, against whom the Lord "comes down," as in Zech. 14:2, and whose numbers and noise no more affect Him than, in the parable, they do the lion. This is in full accord with other scriptures and with the following context.
If the figure of Jehovah as a young lion is suitable in view of Jerusalem's foes, that of a bird guarding her nest with fluttering wings suits His action toward the beloved city. This contrast of stern strength with tender gentleness is very lovely. The mothering bird gives a beautiful figure of tender solicitude, and raises the question whether, since it is precisely the word used for "passover," we ought not to understand that word to refer to Jehovah Himself sheltering with His wing every house on which He saw the blood; for thus our Lord Christ becomes "our passover." He is both the Defender and the Lamb. How impossible to express all His atoning work by one figure. By His own Blood He is set forth as Mercy-Seat — by His death as the Paschal Lamb He passes over in protecting love and righteousness.
We listen to a call so tender and appealing in verse 6 that we hear it as the oft-echoed appeal of God to His poor creature man, and not to Israel only. Now, incontestably our Lord Jesus proves Himself to be the very Jehovah of old, when He too cries, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," but there is no note of reproach, or even reminder of our wandering, as here. A weary spirit and a burdened conscience are all that is needed. But the gracious call shall be heard, and that Remnant of faith shall penitently "turn to the Lord." Then, when Moses is read, with no veil of unbelief over their hearts, they, too, shall see Him whom you and I have been refreshed by seeing, even Christ, in all that Moses wrote, in every lamb slain, in every clean beast offered. Then they shall so turn that they shall actually loathe what once may have been their confidence; and it is this that the holy Scriptures hold out to us too, as the revival that we should look for and expect in this very day, a deepening self-judgment and repentance, and the humbling ourselves under His chastening hand, whilst we confess how profoundly we too have sinned as the present witness for Him on the earth, and how far we have revolted or wandered.
But now once again in verses 8 and 9 the prophecy turns to Asshur. He shall fall by a sword in no human hand, be it noble or base. That sword shall proceed out of the mouth of Him whom we see in Rev. 19 coming on the white horse; or, in another figure, it is the breath of His mouth, whereby He destroys the wicked one.
Jehovah's indignation against His people Israel closes with the destruction of the Assyrian—that is sure—for so we have seen in chap. 10:25: "For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease in their destruction." Note carefully the plural word "their." If only one person were in view, the Assyrian, what need of a plural word? But if the reference is to both the "Beast" (Assyrian) and "False Prophet" (or, King of the north), in alliance against the remnant, this would be accounted for.
Let us then assume, for the sake of argument, that the "Assyrian" is quite distinct from the Gentile opponent of the remnant of Israel, called in the New Testament "the Beast," and is an Eastern enemy, as many teach. Let us next ask, Is he destroyed before the Beast and False Prophet, or after? If before, and he no longer exists on earth, then it follows that both the Beast and False Prophet continue to prosper in their antagonism to Israel after the divine indignation against Israel has ceased (chap. 10:25). That is, the great tribulation and God's hand being stretched out still, goes on after the "indignation" has ceased in the previous destruction of the Assyrian! That surely is self-refuting. The destruction of the Assyrian therefore cannot possibly occur before that of the Beast and False Prophet.
On the other hand, if the Assyrian is only destroyed after the Beast and False Prophet have come to their end, that would necessitate the divine indignation continuing (for it only ceases with the Assyrian's destruction) after the Lord Jesus has appeared for the deliverance of His people and the destruction of their enemies, the Beast and False Prophet—the divine indignation continuing after the divine deliverance! That surely is equally impossible. Recognize that the Assyrian is the "Beast from the sea" of the Gentiles, and all difficulty disappears; and when that one Imperial world-power meets its end in its head - the Beast - the indignation against poor Israel ceases forever.
The "rock" in verse 9 is the Assyrian, or the head of the world-power, the Beast, who has been looked upon as a rock by the apostate mass of the Jews. "Look at your rock," says the Holy Spirit; "he is in flight—a poor rock!" His princes that have been confederated with him, and in whom we may discern the "ten horns" of the Beast (Dan. 7:24; Rev. 17:16), share his terror and his attempt to escape. But of what are they in such fear? It is of the "ensign." Chapter 3 of our prophet will be enough to tell us who is thus symbolized. It is Messiah! It is Christ whose Feet are now again on Olivet. Well may even the victorious besiegers of Jerusalem flee!
The chapter closes with the assurance that it is Jehovah who speaks; and therefore, quite irrespective of apparent delay in fulfilment, that fulfilment is sure. He has taken His place in Zion with burning wrath against her foes; in Jerusalem, as a furnace, hot against her conquerors.
1 See Job 30:15; here, lit., "shall pass."