Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Isaiah 10: 5-11

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,
I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets.
Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations.
For it says, “Are not my princes all kings?
“Is not Calno like Carchemish,
Or Hamath like Arpad,
Or Samaria like Damascus?
10 “As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
Whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images
Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?”

It has been mentioned quite a few times over the course of our study. But, the "distant nation" has not been mentioned by name until this appearance in Isaiah, Chapter 10: "Woe to Assyria...." (vs 5) Take a good look at the Assyrian Empire in the map above. Staggering is the amount of territory! Thus, powerful be those who controlled it. Or were they?

Back in the study of Amos on these pages (Amos 6 blog), we had an opportunity to look at the beginnings of the Assyrian Empire. Through Noah's grandson came Nimrod who founded Ninevah, the capital city. Of Nimrod, we read in Scripture, "He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, 'Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.'" (Genesis 10:9) The reputation of the nation, later empire, would be that of a hunter and a conqueror--but with self-righteous intentions.

In Isaiah, we just read of Assyria's coming to destroy Israel, which the empire successfully did at the hand of two kings: Shalmaneser, who succeeded Tiglath-pileser, and Sargon, who may have done the actual capturing of the nation after taking over Assyria from Shalmaneser. (Commentary suggests that Sargon's annals were more detailed and complete than Shalmaneser's, which did not actually indicate that he took Israel.) What Isaiah is addressing now in Chapter 10 is the rise of the next Assyrian leader, King Sennacherib, Sargon's son. (According to Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary, his name means "bramble of destruction").

So now, taking in all that background, the first mention of Assyria in the passage comes with two descriptors at the mouth of God: "the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation." The capital 'My's' are critical to our understanding. The One with the wrath here is God, not Assyria. The One who will use Assyria as a tool in His work is God, not Assyria. "I send it...," says God, because He is the One who is in control of all things, regardless of the size of the empire or the impressive, historically powerful leadership structure.

"He [Sennacherib] was but the rod of God’s anger, an instrument God was pleased to make use of for the chastening of his people, that, being thus chastened of the Lord, they might not be condemned with the world.... Sometimes God makes an idolatrous nation, that serves him not at all, a scourge to a hypocritical nation, that serves him not in sincerity and truth."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

The hypocritical or "godless" (vs 6) nation mentioned by Henry is Judah. [It is interesting, though, to put in the names of other nations to ponder the possibilities of conflicts in certain eras.] The call by God is to take all of their things--those things that the nation became so enraptured with over God Himself. "Trample them" down in their sinful mire. God's intent was to discipline with His rod and staff. Is this the same "Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me" of Psalm 23 (KJV)? If we are believing that the Lord is our shepherd and has the best of intentions for us, then we need to accept that, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...." (Isaiah 53:6) The rod and staff represent the guidance and discipline of a loving God, steering us to Him. But, in lack of "sincerity and truth" in faith, that rod and staff become much stronger in their force, yet still loving in the intent of the One who uses them.

Verse 7 brings the focus of God's providence into full view:

"Yet it [Assyria] does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations."

Was it Assyria's plan to step into Judah's life for the purpose of bringing spiritual rehabilitation? No. Was it on Sennacherib's radar to go after Judah to add to the Empire? Given what we read, yes, true to historical form, that would be a more proper motive. But the intent to invade Judah and the time frame, (not to mention how it all came about; II Kings has the details), were not born of Sennacherib's heart but of God's greater plan for getting to the heart of His people.

As the passage finishes over verses 8 to 11, Isaiah lets us hear from Sennacherib. [And, I love how Matthew Henry comments on this introduction: "The prophet here brings him in vaunting and hectoring."] Think of a movie monologue from the lead general, a Patton or the like, with the motivational combination of pomposity and trash-talking. Read verse 9 (and its details) from the Amplified Bible:
"Is not Calno [of Babylonia conquered] like Carchemish [on the Euphrates]? Is not Hamath [in Upper Syria] like Arpad [her neighbor]? Is not Samaria [in Israel] like Damascus [in Syria]? [Have any of these cities been able to resist Assyria? Not one!]"

Even the idols have been conquered, reading verses 10 and 11. "Jerusalem, why would you want to mess around with an empire that has taken on the idols and won?!" might say the braggart. Although the thought of idols being powerful would be folly to Judah's King Hezekiah down the line (II Kings 19: 17 and 18), the current king of the day, Ahaz, is not wise or believing.

But, as we know, despite Ahaz and company, God would preserve a remnant of believers from Judah, regardless of the unbelieving and unknowing nations of the world that would come up against it. What will be punishment and chastisement in exile will later bring repentance and a new beginning to the faithful. We may not completely understand God's workings--the why's and the means to the works themselves, sometimes--but when we hold to Scripture, we know that His promises are true; that what He deems to fulfill, He will; and that "...God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)
Joseph testified to this mystery of "bad" for "good" when he spoke to his brothers over their leading him into slavery: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Genesis 50:20) There is also the story of the Man who could and would do no wrong, who put Himself on the other side of the Law and was executed:
"...this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power."
--Acts 2: 23 and 24 (Peter speaking, emphasis mine)

The warning for Judah was not to fear the imposing Assyrian Empire on its borders, to build up armaments and prepare for battle. The warning was to turn back to fearing God, a warning not heeded.

Remember, this passage starts out with "Woe to Assyria." God will call out Assyria's pride.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Isaiah 10: 12-15

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).