Isaiah 9:8–10:34. God Will Punish Israel Severely, Judah Less.
Key Notes: Politics of the Northern Kingdom. A chapter to read aloud. Assyria is God's battle ax. Does the Age of Grace cancel God's judgments?
Why would God punish human beings and nations at all? Isn't Hell enough? One clue comes from the Flood, another from the routing of the Canaanite nations. They, like Sodom and Gomorrah, became so decadent that the earth had to be rid of them. God, who created the world, looks after its physical prosperity (providence), but also keeps it from total physical, spiritual and moral decay. The Northern Kingdom had evidently reached that point.
A sense of what was going on in the Northern Kingdom---Israel / Samariah / Ephraim---can be gathered from the chronicle of its kings during the 50 years that Isaiah was prophet in Judah.
•Zechariah, son of Jeroboam II, was wicked, reigned 6 months, and was assassinated. IIK.15:8
•Shallum, his assassin, reigned one month and was assassinated. IIK.15:13.
•Menahem, his assassin, was wicked, reigning for ten years. He committed atrocities while suppressing the rebellion of one district. He survived by sending silver tribute to Pul of Assyria. IIK.15:16,17–22.
•Pekahiah, his successor, was wicked, reigned 2 years and was assassinated. IIK.15:23
•Pekah, his assassin, was wicked, allying his people with Syria against Judah. He lasted 20 years and was assassinated. IIK.15:27.
•Hoshea, his assassin, was wicked, and reigned 9 years before being imprisoned by Shalmaneser for trying to enlist Egypt against Assyria. IIK.17:1–6. Shalmaneser then captured Samaria and deported the surviving Israelites to Assyria.
Six wicked kings and four assassinations in 40 years suggest spiritual ruin and political instability, virtual anarchy.
9:8–10:4 Isaiah had a word for Samaria. The prophecy is in four stanzas, each ending with "For all this His anger is not turned away and his Hand is stretched out still".
9:8–12 Samaria was optimistic about rebuilding, even better than before, but God had set the Philistines and the Syrians against them.
9:13–17 And why? They did not seek the Lord in their distress. The leaders caused the people to stray. And even the widows and orphans, the usual receivers of good, were corrupted and foolish.
9:18–21. So the wickedness of Samaria would consume it like a forest fire that starts with the underbrush and bursts up into a spiraling fire-storm. People were devouring each other---Ephraim and Manasseh against each other and both against Judah.
10:1–4 Woe to the unjust legislators, robbers. What will they do? Where will they go? Where will they leave their wealth? There will be nothing left but to crouch with the prisoners or fall with the slain.
Chapter 10 crackles with the fire of God. It deserves to be read aloud to the audience.
"Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger, the staff of My fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. "
"My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the people; and as men gather eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped."
"'Shall the axe vaunt itself over Him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against Him who wields it?"
10:7–19 The unthinkable reality is that God is using Assyria, a pagan, disciplined and less decadent nation, as a rod to chastise Israel, a more decadent, but religiously superior people. The king of Assyria is proud and thinks he is above God. (Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, Sargon II, and Sennacharib are probably all included under the singular 'he' as the Assyrian king. They were all involved in the destruction of Israel.) He does not consider cities of Syria and Samaria any different from those he has already conquered. He thinks the idols of Samaria and Jerusalem are the same as those he has already put down. He thinks it is as easy to conquer nations as it is to take eggs from a nest. Mere mortals will not let out a peep. But God is in charge of Assyria, as His instrument of judgment. God will bring his glory down with a fire that will destroy most of his army. It will waste away like a sick man.
10:20 In the last days, Israel will lean on the Lord. A remnant will survive to return.
10:24 Isaiah's message to his people is that they should not be afraid of the Assyrians who were about to punish them. God's anger would be short-lived and the burden would be lifted. God's anger would then be turned on the Assyrians.
10:28–34 A description of the route of the Assyrian army moving down through Judah toward Jerusalem is given. This should have been a warning to the people of Judah to leave these twelve cities. The siege of Lachish by Sennacharib is documented on the Assyrian murals in the British Museum. But the final word is that the Assyrians will be hewn down like a forest at the gates of Jerusalem. We will read the details of the destruction of the Assyrian army when we come to the attack on Jerusalem in Isa. 36–39.
One issue is autonomy. Israel was confident that it could rebuild, neglecting any input from God. The king of Assyria played his own game of warfare, conquest and pillage, not dreaming that God held the key to history. He could not imagine that he was a tool in God's hand, to be disciplined when the task was completed.
Then are human beings mere pawns in God's chess game? Throughout OT history, God creates, promises, interacts, reacts, uses, and restrains human beings. And He never allows us the luxury of thinking that we are autonomous. He alone is autonomous .[Science graduate students in a lecture on abortion and euthanasia protested that they were independent and autonomous, not contingent beings.]
Calvin said God interacts with human beings in three ways:
•"In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)
•God impels, moves, and punishes the wicked.
•God guides the saints by His Spirit.
A second issue is the character of God. In the second century AD Marcion declared that the god of the OT was false, warlike and cruel, whereas the God of the NT was kind and good. Marcionism is a heresy which persists to this day. (A History of Christianity; Harper;1953; KS Latourette, p.125–8)
Many Christians prefer to ignore the Old Testament. They struggle with OT history of God's judgment. Christians belong to the Age of Grace, not the Age of Law. The OT has passed away; in Christ we are new creatures. But we would have to censor the NT, omitting Matt.23–25, Rom.1–3, parts of I,II Peter, Jude and Revelation to conclude that God is different in NT. Jesus spoke more of Hell than anyone else in Scripture.
All OT history is for our instruction. (ICor.10:11). We must learn from it or we are doomed to repeat it.