“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.” Isaiah 31:1
We are living in a time where the the visible church of Jesus Christ is experiencing the consequences of having gone “down to Egypt” by seeking immoral political alliances. In scripture, going “down to Egypt” is more than a physical elevation change. It is a descent spiritually that is a metaphor for seeking the assistance of men, government and human systems rather than relying on God. Going “down to” or “down into” Egypt is mentioned 17 times in scripture. All with negative connotations as clearly stated by Isaiah in the opening passage.
Note the difference in tone when the Israelites leave Egypt. The following perspective is common:
Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your ancestors up out of Egypt.” 1 Sam 12:6
Going up out of Egypt is always a good thing. Both phrases have become metaphors that can be applied in many situations. We will unpack a significant amount of scripture to explore this concept.
Negative “Down to Egypt” examples
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.“
When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. Gen 12:10-20
Note the lack of God’s involvement in the decision to go down to Egypt. Also, it wasn’t long before moral compromise was necessary. That should sound familiar to recent events. While Abraham left Egypt with great possessions, he left weakened in many ways. Many scholars also believe that Hagar was one of the Egyptian “possessions” he left with. We know how that turned out.
Now there was a famine in the land–besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time–and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” So Isaac stayed in Gerar. Gen 26:1-6
Thankfully, Isaac did not repeat the mistake of his father Abraham but had to be directly warned by the LORD not to.
Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the LORD, and the wall around Jerusalem. 1 Kings 3:1
Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue–the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans. 1 Kings 10:28-29
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.
So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command.
So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.” 1 Kings 11:1-12
Solomon led his nation away from God to worship idols. He set the tone for many wicked kings who came later by first going “down to Egypt” to make an alliance which only began the spiritual descent of he and his people. He should be a warning to the modern church for what happens when alliances are made with immoral governments, leaders and nations thinking they will be a good thing for God’s people. In many ways, Solomon’s errors started the process of the destruction of the nation of Israel. The modern parallel should be obvious.
Attempted to throw off the rule of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians by forming an alliance with Egypt. Bad idea. Jeremiah had tried to warn him:
I gave the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah. I said, “Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live.” Jer 27:12
Ezekiel described it this way:
“Say to this rebellious people, ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Say to them: ‘The king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and carried off her king and her nobles, bringing them back with him to Babylon. Then he took a member of the royal family and made a treaty with him, putting him under oath. He also carried away the leading men of the land, so that the kingdom would be brought low, unable to rise again, surviving only by keeping his treaty. But the king rebelled against him by sending his envoys to Egypt to get horses and a large army.
Will he succeed? Will he who does such things escape? Will he break the treaty and yet escape? ” ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, he shall die in Babylon, in the land of the king who put him on the throne, whose oath he despised and whose treaty he broke.” Eze 17:12-16
Here’s what happened:
It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat. Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured. He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 2 Kings 24:20 – 25:1-7
Jeremiah and Ezekiel speak of this at length. Essentially, Zedekiah thought his alliance with Egypt would save him and remove the yoke of the Babylonians from Israel. He ended up being the last king of Israel and was presided over the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity.
Positive “Down to Egypt” Examples
And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied. “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” Gen 46:2-4
Joseph, Mary and Jesus
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matt 2:13-15
What is different about these two examples from the earlier ones? The idea to go down to Egypt originated with God and in both cases God was sending his people to essentially hide there, not to form an alliance with anyone or anything in that nation.
Relying on the help of nations, governments, political authority, armies, human power (unless God specifically commands it) is futile and always leads to misery, bondage, idolatry and often death or suffering. Note that the early church, Jesus followers or the Way did not align with any political entities or governments or seek their help. This is the significant error made by the modern institutional church in North America, especially the USA. Unrighteous alliances were made with Donald Trump, an immoral, narcissistic and ungodly man.
The foolishness of this strategy is now becoming plain to see and will most likely result in a period of “captivity” for the church, much like what occurred to the nation of Israel when taken captive by the Babylonians. This is not to imply President Biden or the Democrats are equivalent to Nebuchadnezzar or Babylon but is more about the spiritual emptiness of the church through an attempted alliance with human government and political power.
Appealing to leaders to do the right thing or confronting unrighteousness is much different that forming alliances with worldly institutions or leaders. Jesus, and his apostles who came after him, never sought alliance with Rome or any of its leaders. In fact, Jesus resisted the alliance offered by Satan himself and regularly referenced that his kingdom was not of this world. This must always be the posture of his true followers. We are about to find out what happens when that is not the case.