For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.
Sometimes a policy is summed up in an epigram, or in an easily quotable sentence; and it can be used as a war cry or as an election cry; it can be adapted to political uses of many sorts. Thus it was said of the Bourbons that "they forgot nothing, and remembered nothing." It was said of an illustrious statesman in Europe that his policy was "blood and iron." In relation to many persons we are recommended to use "masterly inactivity" — to be appearing capable of doing miracles, and yet to take infinite care not to attempt the performance of one of them. This is precisely the spirit of the text. The peoples to whom the words were addressed were mocked, and the paraphrase which the spirit of the text would justify is this: — They have great mouths, but say nothing; the hippopotamus cannot make his voice heard; the ox mouth is closed: their energy is inaction; when they are about to come forward to do wonders they shrink back and do nothing. It is a taunt — an exclamation wholly ironical thrown in the face of a detested enemy, or an absconding friend, or one who has great appearance of energy, and yet is unable to move the tiniest of his fingers.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.