Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
Who depend on horses.
Who trust on chariots because there are lots of them,
And on horsemen, because they are very strong,
But they don’t wait on the Holy One of Israel,
They don’t seek YHWH. — Isaiah 31:1
What will truly make you comfortable? That’s a good question to ask yourself, because you will often find yourself heading in whatever direction or engaging in whatever activity is familiar and comfortable.
God didn’t tell the Israelites that they couldn’t have an army, or that they couldn’t make swords and bows, or do their best to fight well when the occasion arose. They had generals, they had heroes, and they organized armies. In other words, they were able to defend themselves. So what is the particular problem here?
Another text illustrates this problem clearly:
Unless YHWH is building the house,
Those who build it exert themselves in vain. — Psalm 127:1
Notice that this verse doesn’t tell the builders they shouldn’t build, but rather that unless YHWH is also building, their labor is for nothing. Have you ever noticed how odd that sounds? But it reflects an important principle of the Christian life. Very often 1+1=1 in our relationship with God. Sanctification is a gift of grace, but we are also called upon to work, to practice spiritual disciplines, to be disciples and to grow. Nonetheless, if God isn’t making you holy, all your effort is in vain.
If we understood this simple principle, we might find it easier to understand the work of God’s grace in our lives. You’re not going to earn it, you’re not going to make yourself good enough for heaven, but God will allow you to combine your effort with his, and he will make it complete.
So again, what is God’s problem with the Israelites here? The constant call for the Israelites was to go back to a place of comfort. Looking back from the a distance of millennia, we often don’t understand them, even though we behave the same way ourselves quite frequently. When the Israelites were in Egypt, they were crying out to the Lord to save them, but once they have left, they realized the blessings of Egyptian bondageâ€”enough food to eat, a place to sleep, an assured future, and Egyptian troops guarding the frontier. The particular symbol of those Egyptian troops was the horse and chariot.
So they had a tendency to move toward comfort. If we just had more horses and more chariots, we’ll be safe. If we go to Egypt, we’ll get the very best chariots and horses, and then we’ll be safe. Perhaps we can even get some of those fine Egyptian charioteers! Then we’ll REALLY be safe!
Precisely because it was a place of comfort, but also a place of bondage, God had to tell the Israelites to stay away. They were allowed to fight and work. They were allowed to build city walls, but they were always to remember that their trust was always in God. All their efforts were vain unless God was working with them.
Think about comfort and bondage. Are there places in your life that are places of comfort, places you go back to because they feel safe and secure, but which are also places of bondage for you? If so, turn away from them. Determine never to go back. Those places are your Egypt, your source of horses and chariots. God is calling you to move out and put your trust in him.