Chapter 10 opens by closing the section begun in 9:8. The first four verses wrap up the Lord’s promise of judgment on Israel’s leaders and people. The finale comes in 10:1-4 where Judah’s rulers are called out for their official oppression of the needy, poor, and fatherless (1-2). God’s “day of punishment” will come “from afar” through the Assyrian invasion (3). Those once powerful in Judah will be relegated to “crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain” (4). The section ends with the fourth repetition of the haunting refrain: “For all this his anger has not turned away and his hand is stretched out still” (4).
Lest Judah think that God is unjust for using the proud Assyrians to devastate them, Isaiah now brings a stinging word from the Lord against Assyria (8-19). The Lord makes it clear that He has used the Assyrian armies to execute His purposes: “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury” (5). Though Assyria did not understand it, they were a rod, staff (8), axe or saw (15) in the hand of God. He was fulfilling His purposes sending them to “take spoil and seize plunder” against Israel, a “godless nation” (9). Here again is a reminder that God accomplishes His purposes through human means; history is the outworking of divine will.
But lest Israel think that God approves of the attitudes and actions of the Assyrian rulers and armies, Isaiah foretells God’s coming judgment on their leaders and armies. Their arrogance, shown by their lofty opinion of themselves (“Are not my commanders all kings?”—8) will be humbled: the Lord will “punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes” (12). The Assyrians assumed that the idols of Jerusalem and Samaria—idols that looked inferior and less impressive than those of other nations—meant Israel was simply another nation with gods of wood and stone (10). Assyria failed to understand that the God of Israel was the Lord of all the earth. But after they had carried out God’s purposes (“When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem”—12), the Assyrians would be humbled and decimated by God. He promises to send a “wasting sickness” (16) among the Assyrian warriors that will “destroy both soul and body” (18). Their “forest” of soldiers, once tall and mighty, would be cut down so drastically that “a child can write them down” (19).
This prophetic word was fulfilled in the days of King Hezekiah as recounted in 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37. When Sennacherib and his Assyrian forces besieged Jerusalem (10:32), the Lord executed judgment through a “wasting sickness” that decimated the army. “And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (37:36). Their forest of soldiers was chopped down, their lofty boughs lopped off with “terrifying power” (10:33).
The final section in chapter 10, verses 20-34, addresses the “remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob” (20). The Lord assures His people that a “remnant will return” (21). Here is a reference to Isaiah’s oldest son, Shear-jashub (7:3). This chastened remnant, having gone through the fires of invasion and devastation, will have learned their lesson. They will no longer “lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord” (20). Rather than looking to human saviours, who turn out to be oppressors, the remnant will put their trust in the Lord “in truth” (20).
Sadly, at this time, the nation of Israel will be greatly reduced. God had promised Abram that his descendants would be “as the sand of the sea” (21, see Genesis 22:17); now, for a time, they will be only a small remnant. Their destruction, decreed by God, was deserved and “overflowing with righteousness” (22). But it will not go on forever. The Lord will make “a full end” of his “fury” (23, 25). His righteous wrath will indeed burn against Israel and it will also blaze against proud Assyria.
So, Isaiah gives a message of hope to God’s people even in the face of impending invasion. He delivers the Lord’s message to the people of Zion: “be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you” (24). God’s fury, now directed at Judah, will be redirected at Assyria (25). The oppressive burden they brought upon Judah will “depart from your shoulder” (27).
Assyria will indeed march confidently into Judah, terrifying town after town (28-31) as they approach Jerusalem (32). But as the Assyrian leaders “shake his fist as the mount of the daughter of Zion” (32), God will execute judgment upon them swiftly and severely. He will lop off their proud boughs and cut down their forest of soldiers (33-34; see also verse 19). Once again, the Lord will demonstrate His sovereign lordship over the nations of the earth.
Behold Your God
God’s fury can be directed at nations, including His own people. Several times in chapter 10, the Lord speaks of his “anger” and “fury” (5,25). The object of his righteous wrath is first Israel and Judah (5-6), then Assyria (25). The Lord uses the Assyrian king and his armies as His “axe” (15) to chop down Israel (whom the Lord calls a “godless nation”—6). Later, the Lord speaks of taking an axe to lop off and cut down the Assyrians (34). The Lord is righteous and deals with sin wherever He finds it.
God works through sinful nations to accomplish His greater purposes. Isaiah’s messages make clear that God does not excuse evil nations but will use evil nations for His greater purposes. Even though the Assyrian king is arrogant (13) and destructive (7), the Lord wields him like an axe or saw to judge Israel and Judah (8). Eventually, God’s judgment will also come upon Assyria as well. Still, God works through evil people and nations to accomplish His righteous agenda. God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.
The Lord can stop oppressors when they seem unstoppable. In verses 28-24, Isaiah pictures the armies of Assyria advancing from the north towards Jerusalem. They overrun a series of town as they march south in Israel. They arrive at the foothills of Jerusalem and the king of Assyria shakes his fist at the “mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem” (33). At this point, all seems lost. But at this point, God intervenes and cuts down the Assyrian armies, lopping them off in “terrifying power” (34). As we learn in Isaiah 37, he uses a “wasting sickness” (16) upon them to accomplish His complete victory over them. It’s never too late for God to intervene and save His people.
Here Am I
I must keep a humble heart that leans on the Lord. God notices and humbles the proud of heart. The Assyrian king believes his victories are due to His unmatched power. He feels large and in charge. This pride does not go unnoticed by the One who “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5-6). God brings down the proud, humbling the haughty.
Even when God brings painful judgment, His people can still rely on Him. The Lord’s anger comes to a “full end” (23). But his covenantal love lasts forever. Even though He judges His people, in His unfailing love He never forsakes them. This is why Judah (and Israel) could have hope. This is why they could still “lean” on Him for help (20).