Woe to the Assyrian, the Rod of My Anger
DIG: The Assyrian army conquered all the cities listed here en route to Jerusalem. What attitudes did those victories produce in the Assyrian leaders? Why do they think Yerushalayim ought to be a relative “pushover”? What does this show about their deep misunderstanding of the Lord?
REFLECT: When have you taken the credit for what was really God’s work in which you were merely an instrument? How do you visibly practice giving credit when credit is due? Would you rather be “instrumental” in someone else’s judgment, or be on the receiving end of that judgment? Why? What conclusions can be drawn about the LORD’s justice as it concerns the prosperity of the wicked?
Assyria was entrusted with a mission to execute divine judgment, but she abused it. Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath! (10:5). YHVH did give Assyria a commission. The word woe is an expression of angry indignation. It is used to introduce a proclamation of judgment on a person, group, or a nation. Ultimately, Isaiah is saying that it was not Assyrian might that destroyed the northern kingdom of Isra’el, it was the chastisement of God Himself. It is God who controls the nations, and He had chosen that particular time in history to use Assyria as the rod of His anger against Isra’el. But Assyria was only a rod of judgment in His hand. Assyria came against the northern kingdom of Isra’el in the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign, and she came against the southern kingdom of Judah in His fourteenth year.
In this ironic note, God said that He would send Sennacherib (to see link click Bv – The Kings of Assyria and Judah) against a godless nation. Saying: I dispatch him against a people who anger Me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets (10:6). Without doubt, the Jews considered the Assyrians to be a godless nation. Yet, Isaiah had the nerve to suggest that the Assyrians were God’s tool to punish them, and in fact, they were the godless nation! How could this be? Well, relatively speaking, Judah was more godless than Assyria, because she had more revelation from God. She had rejected more light of the Scriptures. Who were the chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2)? Who was the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10)? Who had the Torah to guide them (20:1-26)? If Judah’s moral state was still higher than Assyrian’s, it was also true that she had a much higher standard. Jesus said it this way: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48b).
Although God clearly commissioned Assyria to punish Isra’el, her boasting ultimately led her to overstepping her commission. But the king of Assyria wanted more than to merely punish Judah. This was not what He intended, this is not what He had in mind; His purpose was to destroy, to put an end to many nations (10:7). Did Assyria know that she was being used by God to punish Judah? Yes! Sennacherib sent his supreme commander to bargain with him. Part of his lecture said: Have I come to attack and destroy this place without ADONAI’s approval? ADONAI himself told me to march against this country and destroy it (2 Kings 18:25 CJB). It is clear that Assyria recognized that she had been commissioned by God to punish Judah for her sins. But she overstepped her commission.
Therefore, when Assyria tried to destroy Judah, it was not because of the divine commission. On the contrary, Assyria acted in sheer self-interest and lust of conquest. They assumed that Isra’el and Judah were like any other nation. Assyria violated a principle contained in Zechariah who said: but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity (Zechariah 1:15). God was a little angry with Isra’el and He allowed the Gentiles to come in. But because they overstepped and went beyond what He intended for them, God was greatly angry with them.
Isaiah now speaks for the Assyrian king. The Assyrians boast of successes in the past and confident assurance of easy victories in the future. The officers in Sennacherib’s army had more authority and responsibility than most other kings, and Sargon II liked to say: Are not my commanders all kings (10:8)? Who was Hezekiah to the king of kings? Therefore, he viewed his commanders as kings, because they had more authority and responsibility (in his eyes) than the leaders of the countries he had conquered.
Then the Assyrian king boasted: Has not Calno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus (10:9)? Thus, from Carchemish (that fell in 717 BC) on the Euphrates in the far north of Palestine to Calno (that fell in 738 BC), and from Arpad (that fell in 740 BC) fifty miles to the south to Hamath (that fell in 738 BC) a hundred miles north of Damascus, then on to Damascus (that fell in 732 BC) itself and then on to Samaria (that fell in 722 BC) just north of Judah, his armies had proved invincible. One by one these cities fell with little or no resistance, and the Assyrian king Sennacherib was thinking the same would happen to Jerusalem.
But then Sennacherib, king of Assyria, really made a big mistake. With heavy irony, Isaiah seemingly overhears the king saying: As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria – shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols (10:10-11)? He thought that since other gods, who, in his eyes, were greater than the God of Samaria and Jerusalem, did not prove to be any hindrance to Assyria, what could the God of Samaria and Yerushalayim do to Him? The Assyrians had subdued Marduk, Hadad, Baal and El. And if he were able to destroy the idols of Samaria, since Samaria worshiped the same God as Tziyon, he would be able to destroy Tziyon. He did not think that Yerushalayim would be any more difficult to conquer than any of the other countries, Judah’s God than any other god. But how wrong he was! He knew that both Samaria and Tziyon worshiped the same God, but he did not understand that Samaria’s worship had degenerated into sinful idolatry of the golden calves. And although the Holy City had also been corrupted, the believing remnant (10:16-34) worshiped the proper way in the Temple at Jerusalem. He thought that since ADONAI was unable to help Samaria, what could He possibly do to help Yerushalayim? That was his big mistake, and as such, Assyria would be punished.