Moses continues his discussion about Israel’s kings in Deut. 17:16,
16 Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never again return that way.”
Horses were used mainly to pull chariots and were the army tanks of the day. The number of chariots that an army had often made the difference between winning and losing a war. The Egyptians were famous for their horse-drawn chariots, which made them a powerful nation in the region.
The kings of Israel, however, were not to rely upon its military might, but depend upon divine protection. God’s protection was upon them as long as the nation obeyed His laws and retained their faith in Him. But when the nation fell into sin, God said that He would remove His protection from them, saying in Deut. 28:25, “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies.”
Such defeats often occurred in Israel’s history, as demonstrated in the book of Judges. The people endured six distinct captivities to other nations during the 300 years leading up to the reign of King Saul. The prophets attribute all of these captivities to the fact that the people had broken the covenant. That is, they broke their vow of obedience (Exodus 19:8).
God then judged the nation by causing them to be defeated in war. Those who had no faith in God attributed their defeat to having an insufficient number of horses and chariots. Their carnal solution was to build up their war machine, rather than to repent. In doing so, they found themselves trying to defend themselves against God.
Isaiah had the most to say about this. He says in Isaiah 31:1-3,
1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen, because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord! 2 Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster, and does not retract His words, but will arise against the house of evildoers, and against the help of the workers of iniquity.
In other words, God is “wise and will bring disaster” upon the Israelites for their lack of faith and their disobedience. God promised to bring about their defeat when they violated His law, and He “does not retract His words.” When the Israelites cast aside His law, they became “evildoers” and “workers of iniquity,” and God promised to rise up against them by helping their enemies defeat them in battle.
3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit; so the Lord will stretch out His hand, and he who helps will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and all of them will come to an end together.
In other words, the Israelites should not turn to Egypt for help. If they do, the Egyptians will stumble, and the Israelites will fall, “and all of them will come to an end together.” The prophet says that it is useless to try to fight against divine judgment. The real solution is to repent, to hear, believe, and obey what He has spoken. When the people repent, then God will rise up and overthrow the oppressors.
Yet the people of Israel did not believe the prophets, nor did they have any faith that God would protect an obedient people. They did not believe that their defeat in battle had anything to do with their relationship with God, even while they continued to perform religious service in the temple in Jerusalem. So the prophet says in Isaiah 30:1 and 2,
1 “Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the Lord, “who execute a plan, but not Mine, and make an alliance, but not of My Spirit, in order to add sin to sin; 2 to proceed down to Egypt, without consulting Me, to take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt.”
Isaiah then gives the only solution to the danger that they faced, as the Assyrian army approached,
15 For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” But you were not willing, 16 and you said, “No, for we will flee on horses.” Therefore, you shall flee! “And we will ride on swift horses.” Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift.
Though Israel appealed to Egypt for help, the Assyrians conquered Israel and deported them to the area near the Caspian Sea.
When the Israelites lost faith in God, they came to depend upon their own strength for their protection. When they disobeyed God and cast aside His law, they opened themselves up to divine judgment as prophesied in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Judgment for disobedience was part of the covenant, along with blessings for obedience. Yet it is difficult for a rebellious people to understand this. They want the freedom to disobey God and yet reap the blessings as if they were obedient. They want to worship God in the temples, but have the freedom to violate His laws in their daily life.
Isaiah says in 30:1 that this merely adds sin to sin. In other words, first they sin by violating the law, and then when divine judgment comes, they add another sin by trying to defend themselves with “horses.”
Israel’s problem in Isaiah’s day is the same that we find today in America and around the world. The great American military arms race coincided with their move to remove God from government, education, and the courts. The solution is not for patriots to rise up with their guns to overthrow bad government officials. The solution is to repent and to declare God as the Head of State, recognizing God’s right to rule the world that He has created.
God will continue to put pressure upon America until the people reinstate the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”