Dear readers, Tillie and I have several family obligations over the next three weekends (a grandson graduating from college May 15 in Missouri; another grandson getting married in Florida on May 20; and a 95th birthday celebration for her father on May 26th). Therefore there will be no further postings on the book of Isaiah until June.
In our last essay we studied 7:18-9:7, a great prophetic passage. In this essay we are studying 9:8-10:34, which I have entitled, “The Destroyer Destroyed.” But that title is more appropriate for the second part of today’s lesson, which predicts the destruction of Assyria (the destroyer). In the first part of the lesson, we see a prediction of judgment proclaimed against Israel.
In verses 9:8-12 the Lord sent a word of judgment against Jacob, and it fell on Israel. That is, the word came on Israel, because of her pride; but by saying it was against “Jacob,” Isaiah as including both the northern and southern kingdoms, even though at this particular time, it was the northern kingdom that was in focus.
The arrogance and pride of Israel is clearly seen in verses 9-10. They believed that they had the power to fix anything that came their way. No matter what would be destroyed by an invading army, they would repair it so that it would be better than before. If the invaders knocked down a mud-brick wall, they would rebuild it with finely dressed stones; if the invaders cut down their sycamore trees, they would replant with even more valuable cedar trees.
God would not put up with such pride in his people, and so he would send adversaries from both the East and West. And Israel would be destroyed. Notice the sentence at the end of verse 12, “For all this his anger has not turned away; his hand is stretched out still.” That is a refrain we see through 10:4. It appears here in 9:12, and again in 9:17, 9:21, and 10:4.
In verses 9:13-17 we see that the people could repent, but they do not, “so the Lord will cut off from Israel head and tail,” meaning her leadership. Notice that it will happen “in one day” (v. 14). And notice also that Isaiah identified the “head” as the “elders and dignitaries,” and the “tail” as the false court prophets (v. 15).
Beginning at verse 16, we see the results of God’s judgment against Israel’s pride and sin, namely, confusion (v. 16). And we also see God’s withdrawal of his support even for the young people, orphans and widows. And a reason is given. “Everyone was godless and an evildoer,” and every mouth spoke foolishness (v. 17).
Verses 18-21 continue to show results of the judgment on the corrupt leadership and rampant godlessness. It is like a grass fire that becomes a raging forest fire and consumes everything in its path. The people will turn on one another, even brother against brother. Of course that was nothing new. Manasseh and Ephraim were brothers who sprang from Joseph. And their descendents became the two largest tribes in the northern kingdom. They had warred against each other, and now they were warring against the southern kingdom of Judah. And it was bringing the judgment of God upon them.
In verses 10:1-4 Isaiah continues his indictment against Israel with a warning against the corrupt rulers who have oppressed the poor, the widows and the orphans. As verse three says, the leadership will be called to give an account of their stewardship. They may think that they are accountable only to themselves, but they are wrong. Woe to them. Their ill-gotten wealth will be lost as God’s judgment is brought to bear. And they will be captured or killed.
This concludes the sub-section, 9:8-10:4 that is set apart by the already mentioned refrain, “For all this his anger has not turned away; his hand is stretched out still.” The main thing to understand from this section is that it was not Assyria that dictated the future of Israel and Judah. It was the sins against God of Israel’s leaders and people. It was their pride, corrupt leadership, devouring of their brothers, and their oppression of the poor that brought God’s judgment upon them.
Now then, at this point the focus of the passage shifts from the sinfulness of Israel to the arrogance and pride of Assyria. Scholars have debated the date of the material in this paragraph, because some of the battles listed in verse eight did not take place until after the destruction of the northern kingdom, Israel (722\21 BC). [E.g., Carchemish took place in 717 BC]. Oswalt says that that is not a problem, because the materials are arranged logically rather than chronologically.
Once again Isaiah mentions that Assyria is God’s instrument to punish Israel. But the “Woe to Assyria” with which the passage begins shows that Assyria’s judgment also is coming. Notice that Isaiah once again calls Israel “a godless nation.”
Verse seven makes it clear that Assyria and her leaders had no idea that they were doing God’s bidding. Isaiah, speaking for the Assyrian king, lists the king’s major conquests from the Euphrates to Israel by listing the cities from North to South. And the Assyrian king thinks of Israel’s God as on the same level as the gods of the other countries he has conquered. And Judah and her God are next. Indeed in his opinion he already had defeated Judah’s God by defeating the northern kingdom, who had the same God.
In verses 12-19 we see that God’s judgment will fall on Assyria, but it will be in God’s way and in God’s timing. Verses 13-14 show the arrogant boasting of the Assyrian king. And then we see in verses 15-19 a further announcement of judgment on Assyria. Isaiah uses two interesting metaphors: sickness and fire. All of the works about which the king of Assyria has boasted will be ruined, because God is really the one in control, verse 15. All of the strength, vigor, and glory of Assyria will be devoured either by disease or by fire. “Wasting sickness will cut down Assyria’s “stout warriors” (v. 16). And a raging fire will burn Assyria’s “briers and thorns” as well as the glory of her towering forests (vv. 17-18). Indeed, there will be so few “trees” left that a child will be able to list them (v. 19).
In verses 20-23 Isaiah shifts his attention from Assyria back to Israel, and that means Israel in the larger sense of both the northern and southern kingdoms. The phrase “on that day” in verse 20 usually points to coming judgment; but in this case, as in 4:2, it points to the restoration that will follow the judgment. The “remnant of Israel” refers to those few who remain faithful to the Lord. They will return to dependence on God instead of dependence on other nations. That there will be only a remnant of them reflects the fact that Israel does not escape judgment.
In verses 24-27 Isaiah returns from the future to his present. Isaiah exhorts his people not to be afraid of the Assyrians, because God is going to destroy them. And “on that day,” meaning the day of judgment on Assyria, the burden and yoke of their oppression will be removed, verse 27. They will be delivered from the Assyrians just as they had been delivered from the Egyptians during the Exodus and from the Midianites in Gideon’s day.
Verses 28-32 are a prophecy of Assyria’s destruction. First, Isaiah depicts the Assyrian “army’s relentless progress from a point some fifteen miles north of Jerusalem until it finally stands overlooking the Holy City” (Oswalt, p. 274). It is a route that avoids the defensive strong points along the main road (Gibion, Ramah, and Gibeah), as one would expect; but it still is a picture of an overwhelming force that cannot be resisted.
Then in verses 33-34, we see a sudden and dynamic change. God will somehow intervene, and the great Assyrian “trees” will be cut down. Whether Isaiah understood exactly when this was to happen is hard to say, but the prophecy was completely fulfilled in 701 BC when Assyria’s king Sennacherib sent an army to Jerusalem. They camped above the city and taunted king Hezekiah and the Judeans. But overnight 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops died in their camp at the hand of the Lord (2 Kings 18:17-19:17).