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Lowell Brueckner

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The Assyrian Threat


12. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 10

Assyria, enemy of Israel, was a very real power in world history. It defeated the northern kingdom of Israel and came down to Jerusalem to overthrow it in the time of King Hezekiah. This is Isaiah's prophecy of those soon-coming events and is meant to strengthen Judah's resolve against their threat. In like manner, the Word of the Lord and the sure promises of the Almighty bolster His people to this day.  

Justice and defense for the needy

Chapter 10 begins with some particular complaints that God has against the legislative and judicial system in Judah. He calls their attention to evil statutes that they have drawn and unjust decisions made by their judges (v.1-2). God takes notice of those things in a nation, particularly in the physical nation, which is called by His name. He does not tolerate it, when the rights of the poor are ignored and not enforced. They have little means of procuring these rights and they lack ways, in which to defend themselves, if they are accused. Orphans and widows are of great concern to God and Judah's treatment of them is a chief cause for coming judgment. “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation” (Ps.68:5).

However, in God’s economy, the humanitarian duties of the church are carried out in an orderly and just fashion, so that it will reach to those who are truly needy. See Paul’s instructions to Timothy: “Honor widows who are widows indeed… Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day… A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than 60 years old, having been the wife of one man… having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work… If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (1 Ti.5:3-16). The church was not a welfare system for those, who shirked family responsibility or manifested a lack of commitment to God.  

Still God is the defender of the defenseless (v.3) and, sooner or later, justice prevails. It would be of interest to be able to see how judgment falls in manifold ways upon today’s society for the reasons mentioned. Sometimes the punishment is obvious and other times it is more subtle; sometimes it is immediate and other times it builds and gains force for a future time. Someone gave the example of a drawn slingshot, in what would seem to be a delay in God’s judgment, to illustrate what would seem to be a delay in God's judgment, depicting Newton’s law of motion: For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. The farther back it is pulled, the greater the thrust and impact.

Assyria, the rod of God’s anger

King Sennacherib of Assyria on his throne
God has His people in mind, as He conducts the affairs of the world. In His justice system, He uses entire nations as executioners. In the case of Israel, it will be “Assyria, the rod of My anger” (v.5). Because they did not live and act in the fear of God, He abandons them to their doom, and death and captivity lie before them (v.3-4) Twice in chapter nine, the Lord shows that his wrath has not been satisfied, even after partial judgment has been executed. In the final analysis, it is fully poured out, either at Calvary or in the flames of hell. In chapter ten, again we read of continuing anger. The wrath of God is an awesome matter and is worthy of fear in the hearts of His wayward, hypocritical people. “A godless nation,” He calls them, “the people of My fury” (v.6), to be trampled down and plundered.

We are learning the ways of God and we need to pay close attention. “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb.12:5-6 quoting Pr.3:11,12). Oh yes, brothers and sisters, there is reason to fear the Father’s rod under the New Testament. That rod can take many forms and we should not limit it to certain sources that we might prefer. He will use whatever means necessary to bring about the desired effect in our lives.  

However, Assyria is not aware that he is nothing more than a tool of God (v.7). He has his own goals of destruction and conquest. As nation after nation fall, his princes or commanders become rulers over them (v.8). Assyria boasts of his might and sees the present foe in the light of past victories (v.9). The disappearance of borders to create an empire is attributed to national power and wisdom (v.13). The accumulation of other countries’ populations and treasures has been performed with relative ease… “as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth,” he says (v.14).

He sees nothing beyond the might of his armies, and He ranks Jerusalem among the pagan, heathen nations (v.10-12). We will see this later in his negotiations with Hezekiah in Jerusalem. What is likely to produce more doubt among the Jews, about Assyria’s capability to overcome them, is due to the fact that their brother nation to the north (represented by its capital city, Samaria) has also fallen.

God never ignores arrogance. He turns from the punishment of His people, towards the oppressor used to execute the punishment. He states very clearly that Assyria is an “axe, a club, and a rod” (v.15). God is the wielder of the instruments and by His power and authority and for His purposes, Assyria has been raised up. It happens commonly in Scripture that the armies that are used to bring discipline upon Israel are later destroyed, because they did not give glory to God and their hatred and violence against His people exceeded His intentions.

Assyria’s humiliating downfall

Notice how the Lord humiliates Assyria, weakening his strong points: “The God of hosts will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors”, “under his glory a fire will be kindled”, and “He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden” (v.16,18). We see in their downfall a physical manifestation of divine principle, stated by the apostle, “that no flesh may boast before God” (1 Co.1:29).

In verse 17, Isaiah writes, not of Israel, but of the Light of Israel, and Israel’s Holy One, Who will bring the destruction upon Assyria in one day (v.17). The Lord sees all of his might as “thorns, briars, a sick man, and small in number”. The sum of their army will be reduced to a number, which will be simple arithmetic for a small child (v.19). This was fulfilled in a single day, exactly as here stated, and we will see it in the story of Hezekiah later on in this book.

A nation under threat from a stronger power will often compromise, as Israel did various times in the latter part of its Old Testament history, and once conquered will yield in dependence on the victors. However, the remnant, who return from captivity, will determine never again to be defenseless before their attackers (v.20). In this century, the prime minister of Israel has taken up the vow that there will never be another holocaust. If no one will support Israel, they will defend themselves. If ever there was a need for them to depend upon the God of Israel, it is today. Isaiah’s prophecy lies before them in the Sanctuary of the Book and the vision, which he saw in chapter six, evoked the title that Isaiah gave to the One that he saw high and exalted upon the throne. The seraphim cried, “Holy, Holy, Holy” and Isaiah calls Him, the Holy One of Israel.

“A remnant will return… to the mighty God” (v.21). Because they return to God, He will free them from captivity and they will rely upon Him. He had determined a righteous judgment, after which only a minority will remain (v.22). The fear of God has fallen upon the remnant and there is no need to fear Assyria (v.23-24) or any of the other world powers. The Psalmist said, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever” (Ps.19:10). His fear is wholesome, health to the soul, not as the fear of man which ensnares and torments. Another Psalm assures, “The Lord has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (Ps.118:18).

There is an end to His indignation against His people and it will turn against their enemies (v.25). Twice a comparison is made between Egypt and Assyria, between the liberation from Pharaoh to the deliverance from Assyria (v.24,26). Jeremiah wrote of two great works of God for Israel at the beginning of their history and at the end of the Old Testament: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I have given to their fathers” (Jer.16:14).

The God of restoration and hope

God is the God of restoration and of hope for those who fear Him. Another historical victory is mentioned; Gideon’s victory over Midian and King Oreb (Jdg.7:25). These historical events serve as reference points to the faithfulness of God towards Israel against the upcoming danger. There is apparently a great difficulty in the interpretation of verse 27: And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.” What is beyond dispute is that God promises deliverance from Assyria, who is now oppressing Judah, but the means, which God uses, could be another reference to the anointed Messiah, the Christ, or perhaps it means that, because Israel is the anointed and peculiar possession of God, He will break their yoke through the swelling of that anointing. 

The approach of the enemy army is depicted, arriving at the northern portion of the tribe of Benjamin, Aiath (or Ai), on to Migron and finally arriving nine miles north of Jerusalem at Michmash (v.28). They lay down their baggage there and prepare for the onslaught. Ramah and Gibeah are well-known cities of Benjamin from the days of King Saul (v.29). On the army marches ever closer and a cry of alarm goes up from Gallim, Laish and then Anothoth, which is only three miles from Jerusalem (v.30). Nearby Madmenah is evacuated and the inhabitants of Gebim, (both are unknown villages to us) flee, taking with them what they can of their possessions (v.31). Nob, the city of priests, where David was received, when fleeing from Saul, becomes a stopping point and is near enough so that the Syrian can shake his fist at Zion, the hill of Jerusalem (v.32), in defiance.

Assyrian archers
At that point, with his eyes on the target, the enemy army is met by the Lord, the God of hosts, as has already been predicted in verses 16 through 18. He “will lop off the boughs” (v.33) of “the glory of his forest” (v.18). “His stout warriors” (v.16), “who are tall in stature will be cut down and those who are lofty will be abased”. Here Lebanon, famous for its beautiful forests, is descriptive of Assyria, whose army is likened to a magnificent woodland, but God, the Mighty One, will bring it down (v.33).

Israel’s comfort and hope is in the word of its prophet and so our future is sure through the Word of God, which lives and abides forever. His promises are surer than any country’s defense department. He is the Lord of Hosts and every one of our enemies will fall, as the mighty army of the Syrian world power fell before Jerusalem. We will study the details in chapter 36.  


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