Sunday, November 17, 2019

Isaiah 10:5-34 "The Sovereignty of God"

The Bible provides us with perspectives that absolutely rock our common worldviews.  A very common worldview today (and it is even held by many Christians)   is that God has nothing to do with the world’s politics.  It is thought that He leaves that to the world’s rulers. It is thought that He is watching this world from a distance, and some Christians believe that He will only intervene at the end of time, when things have thoroughly gotten out of hand. 

Well, the Bible knows nothing of this kind of thinking. Nothing!  Today we shall see that God is at work in this world in a sovereign, hands-on way, even though we do not see Him physically. He is the unseen hand ruling the world, upholding it moment by moment. 
Nothing exists or happens in this world which He doesn’t know. 
Nothing that happens in this world catches Him by surprise. 

God is involved in the political happenings of our world. In and through it all He does not command evil, but He does allow evil to have its way for a while, so that we may  see our   own folly. In the history of nations He is frequently seen to be handing nations  over to  the kind of rulers they deserve.  Do we have any influence in all of this?  Yes! The Bible teaches us to pray (that is, to speak to and ask God) for our governing authorities, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1Tim 2:2).  That, by way of introduction! From our text we learn to see God’s hand in the affairs of this world, in  that

1.     Assyria is  God’s  chastising tool  upon  His wayward  nation (10:5-7)
2.     Assyria   is an arrogant boastful nation  (10:7-11 ; 13-14)
3.    Assyria will be in for a nasty surprise, for God will  judge her (10:12;10:15-19)
4.     In the midst of it all political chaos  God will preserve  His people (10:20-34)

1.     10:5-6:  Assyria,  God’s surprising  instrument of chastisement

We have previously seen in 7:1 -10:4 how God revealed through Isaiah that He would use Assyria[1] as an instrument of judgment against Syria, Israel, and Judah, who were at war among themselves. God was not standing by idly. He was handing over these nations to Assyria: “Ah Assyria, the rod of my anger; the  staff in their hands  is my fury.” Do you see the Great Shepherd at work here?  the rod of my anger … the staff in  their hands is my fury”.  The rod and the staff are shepherds tools to guide and correct their sheep. Assyria fulfilled that function right now, as God used them to correct Syria, Israel, and Judah. In that sense Assyria was the servant of God - but only in that sense.  Later in Isaiah  44:28  that  same  idea  is expressed  when  a century and a half later God calls Cyrus, the Persian ruler to be His shepherd  to deliver Israel from Babylonian captivity and to punish the Babylonians  for their brutal ways.

Back to Assyria: “against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command  him to take spoil and to seize plunder and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.” (10:6b). The language here leaves us in no doubt that God used the Assyrians who were the political superpower at that time. The Assyrians were an efficient, well developed army in its day. They were the first to develop iron weapons, which were superior to the bronze weapons, commonly used at that time. Their skill allowed them to make weapons and protective items, so more soldiers could use them. They were the first army to have a separate engineering unit, which could set up ladders and ramps, and fill in moats, and dig tunnels to help the soldiers get into a walled city. They were also among the first to build chariots. These technological advancements allowed the Assyrians to expand their empire.[2]  What is surprising in all this is that God would use such a pagan nation, an arrogant nation to chastise His people. In this next section we will explore  the arrogance of the Assyrians

2.      Assyria - an arrogant boastful nation  (10:7-11 ; 13-14 )

We have seen firstly then that Assyria is a tool in God’s hand.  But how does Assyria see herself?  10:7-11 and 10: 13-14 give us insight here.  Assyria, although she is given this momentary authority by God, we read, “does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few, (see 10:8,13).

Here  we learn  that,  although Assyria was indeed  an instrument in God's hand, and since they were doing the will of the LORD,  that fact did not free them from  their own  motives  for  attacking  Syria, Israel, and Judah.  Not at all!  Although they were given a free hand from God, it was in their heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations.   

When we read of the account of the Assyrian besiegement of Jerusalem in Isaiah 36:10 (cf. 2Kings 18:25) we take note that the commander of the Assyrians appeared to have been aware of his divine mandate from the God of Israel. But it is equally clear in that context that Assyria thought little of the God of Israel. The Assyrian commanders appropriated to themselves much more glory,  than to the God   who has made and who rules this Universe. 
The reading of  10:8-11, 13-14  confirms  this. Do you see what is happening here?

Assyria had  an over - inflated view of themselves. They regarded their commanders to be on the level of the kings of other nations: "For he says, 'Are not my commanders  all  kings? Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? The cities mentioned in 10:9,10 were systematically conquered  by the  Assyrians, and in so doing l they  boasted  that  none of their territorial  gods  had been able to help them.

Observe the pride of the Assyrians. Consider their boastful language: “As my hand has  reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved images were greater than those  of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do  to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her idols?'"  (10:10,11). They thought of  the  God of Israel as nothing more than one of the idols that they had conquered in Samaria or in many other cities. The Assyrians were going to be in  for a rude  surprise!

Consider also  their further  boasts in  10:13,14:  For he says: "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their  treasures etc. Observe the pride of Assyria! They glory in their own strength and wisdom and power.  This is asking  for trouble!

As we pause to reflect on this, one of the greatest perplexities for the reader of Scripture is how God could possibly use such a pagan, arrogant nation to chastise among others, his own people? To answer that we need to observe that there is nothing uncommon about God’s strategy.  140 years later we shall find a similar situation,  when in Jeremiah’s   and in  Habakkuk’s day  (605 and 686 B.C)  God raised up the  ruthless, godless Babylonians   to  chastise  the Southern kingdom,  Judah (Hab. 1:6-11), after which  He promptly  announced judgment on Babylon herself (Hab. 2:6-17)!

Here we deal with the mystery of God’s ways in the temporary judgements of the peoples of the world, and especially in the judgement of His backslidden people.  Here we deal with the fact that the LORD can use a wicked nation like the Assyrians to punish His own people’s wickedness. He could use them as the rod of His anger, whilst at the same time   judging them, and saying to them,"woe  upon you Assyria!"  

God can use the wickedness of man to further His will, without ever approving of his wickedness, and in the end judging their wickedness. This  is repeatedly seen in the Scriptures. Joseph's brothers sinned against Joseph, but God used it for His purpose, and He disciplined Joseph's brothers. Saul sinned against David, but God used it for His purpose, and God judged Saul. Judas sinned against Jesus, but God used it for His purpose, and he judged Judas.

God is absolutely able to  bring  good through evil- even the evil  done to us. Look what good God has brought out of the evil design of men  that had the Lord Jesus crucified.    We cannot  know  in advance exactly how God will bring about  the good, but we can trust  Him for the outcome. God does care about all the evil done in this world, and He will bring His judgment according to His perfect will and timing.Again, we cannot know when that will be, but it will happen!

3.     Assyria will be in for a nasty surprise, for God will  judge her  (10:12; 10:15-19)

This brings us to the next point. Do not think that God Almighty overlooks anything! In this very text God the Almighty vows to severely discipline the Assyrians.

10:12  When the Lord has finished all his work  on Mt Zion  and on Jerusalem,he will punish  the  speech of the arrogant  heart of the king of Assyria  and the boastful look in his eyes…”

In 10: 15 -19  the LORD uses the pictures of an axe, a saw, a rod, and a staff to make the point that the instrument should never take credit for what the worker does with the instrument. The strength and the skill are in the user, not in the instrument.  Assyria gloried in her military power but she failed to give glory to God. And now she must face God herself.

10:16 “Therefore the Lord God of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors…”.   In Isaiah 37:36 we read what happened: “And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185 000 in the camp of the Assyrians”. That was the end of the Assyrian   attempt to conquer Jerusalem, and that is basically also the end of the Assyrian empire. How the mighty have fallen! The Bible ascribes this all to the hand of God.

4.      What about Israel? In the midst of it  all  God will preserve a remnant (10:20-34)

In the midst of all this, God has a word for the worried – for the righteous, who feel themselves to be pawns in the game.  What about  the  true, faithful people of God that are found in  every generation? What about them?  Are they  just  a lost cause,  are they  just incidental to this story, or  are they,   as the militarists say, just ‘collateral damage’ in this  eternal wrangle between God and  evil?
Not at all!
The story of the Bible now takes on another profound turn as we are introduced to the doctrine of the remnant ...the survivors of the house of Jacob (10:20) … the remnant of Jacob (10:21). Chapter 10 closes with real hope and gives us ultimate perspective and application:

(i)               (10:22) “The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness”. When God allows destruction  of his own   cause -  Israel or the church, it is always righteous, and never unfair. His judgment overflows with righteousness and the outcome will be good! The church of our day desperately needs cleansing, and is God not using our enemies to do that?

(ii)             (10:23) “For the Lord GOD of hosts will make a full end”.  An end of what? An end of Judah's trust in nations like Assyria. They will never again depend on him who defeated him. The Lord must cleanse the church  to  make her stop depending  on worldly solutions  in terms  of her work in this world.

(iii)           (10:24) “Therefore … do not be afraid of the Assyrian”. God is telling His people, "yes, judgment and correction are coming, and it will hurt. But I have a plan, so don't be afraid." This is a hard word to believe, because judgment and correction, by their very nature, hurt! Yet we can decide to not be afraid and trust in the LORD, even when it hurts.

(iv)            (10:26) God Can! Just as he did before! The LORD of hosts will stir up a scourge for him like the slaughter of Midian. Judges 7:25 describes Gideon's victory over the Midianites at the rock of Oreb. As miraculous and complete as Gideon's victory was, that is how miraculous and complete God's judgment on Assyria would be. As it happened, this was exactly the case. We have seen how the LORD, destroyed 185,000 Assyrians in one night. Exodus 14:16 describes how the LORD used the rod of Moses to divide the Red Sea. In the same way, He would do something totally miraculous against Assyria.

(v)              (10:27 -34 ) In that day that his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck…   In  10:28-32 we find a  prophetic description of the arrival of the army of the Assyrians. The listing of cities flows from the north to the south, describing the course of the Assyrian invasion. Nob is  on the outskirts of Jerusalem. This is as far as the army of the Assyrians came against Judah. They were stopped here when the LORD killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. 10:33,34. The buck stops with the Lord God of hosts. Everything falls before the Majestic One. The bigger they are, the harder they fall!

Our text is indeed a grand celebration of the sovereignty of God (Psalm 27:1-3). The last Word Isaiah has for us this year  is this: “Do not fear”. I remind you again of what  Isaiah had previously said in 8:11-13,

11For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

[1]  Assyria corresponds to most parts of modern-day Iraq as well as parts of Iran, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey.

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