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Isaiah 10:1-3 says,
1 Woe to those who enact evil statutes and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, 2 so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights; so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans. 3 Now what will you do in the day of punishment [pekudda, “visitation”], and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth?
God was the only one who could save the nation from certain destruction, but since the people had already forsaken God and abandoned His laws, who could they turn to for help? The obvious solution was to repent and return to God’s law. The solution was to stop robbing the poor and depriving the people of their God-given rights.
Take notice that Isaiah was not condemning the people themselves but the leaders and judges who were oppressing the poor and helpless among the people. The leaders had legislated “evil statutes” that were contrary to the law of God. No doubt this included oppressing foreigners as well, contrary to Exodus 22:21-24,
21 You shall not wrong a stranger [ger, “sojourner, foreigner”] or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry, 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
Oppressing strangers, widows, and orphans was a serious offence in the sight of God. These all had God-given rights, but the judges often deprived them of those rights. The most common forms of oppression included charging them interest on loans (Exodus 22:25) and depriving them of the right to glean in the fields (Leviticus 19:10).
Exodus 22:27 says, “And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him; for I am gracious.” Foreigners, widows, and orphans have no kinsman redeemer to defend them in court, so God Himself becomes their defender. When the oppressed cry out to God, He initiates an official investigation to see if the charges are valid. Such an investigation is called a “visitation,” and thus the prophet asks their oppressors, “what will you do in the day of visitation?” How will you justify yourself? How will you avoid the judgment of God?
Judgment is Certain
Isaiah 10:4 tells us,
4 Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out.
Here we see that the destruction of the nation was not sufficient to satisfy divine justice. They were also to go into exile for “seven times,” as the law demanded (Leviticus 26:18, 24, 28).
Woe to Assyria
Isaiah 10:5-7 continues,
5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation. 6 I send it against a godless nation [i.e., Israel] and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations.
Assyria was “the rod” in the hands of God, although they were unaware of it. The prophet tells us that the Assyrians did not intend to be used by God in that manner. The Assyrian king only intended to “destroy and to cut off many nations” in order to obtain man-made glory. For this reason, the prophet said, “woe to Assyria,” because its lack of awareness would cause them to overstep their boundaries and incur divine judgment upon themselves as well.
The judgments of God are not without mercy, and when God subcontracts divine judgment to other nations, those nations are bound to respect God’s laws. Inevitably, they fail to do so, however, because they too are godless idolaters. So the instrument of God’s judgment are also judged in the end.
So we see in history that a century later, one of the Assyrian provinces (Babylon) revolted and destroyed Nineveh. Babylon then replaced Assyria as the dominant force in the region. In the year 1850 archeologists unearthed about 1400 clay tablets from the Assyrian Royal Library of Ashubanipal in Nineveh. Many of these referenced the Israelites that they had settled in the land of Gamir. But because these Israelites were called Gamira, rather than Israelites, they became the “lost tribes of Israel.” They were not really lost, of course, but their identity was hidden by the Assyrian names.
The clay tablets were discovered and translated by Professor Leroy Waterman of the University of Michigan. Later, these were published in 1930 by the University of Michigan in four volumes entitled, Royal Correspondence of the Assyrian Empire. A review of these with commentary can be seen in Professor E. Raymond Capt’s book, Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets, first published in 1985.
The Assyrian Boast
Isaiah 10:8-11 continues,
8 For it [Assyria] says, “Are not my princes all kings? 9 Is not Calno like Carchemish, or Hamath like Arpad, or Samaria like Damascus? 10 As My hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, 11 Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?”
Calno is Calneh in Genesis 10:10, one of the cities of Nimrod’s kingdom. The ruins of Carchemish are located on the border between Turkey and Syria. Isaiah tells us that both Calno and Hittite city of Carchemish were conquered by Assyria, and the gods of those cities were unable to prevent this disaster.
Hamath was a fortress on a great mound halfway between Carchemish and Kadesh along the Orontes River. This Kadesh was not the place south of Canaan where the twelve spies gave their report in Numbers 13, 14. (See Deuteronomy 1:2.) Rather, it was the Syrian Kadesh on the north end of what is now Lebanon.
The Assyrians took the city shortly after conquering Samaria. When the Assyrian army tried to negotiate the surrender of Jerusalem a few years later, Rabshakeh said to them in 2 Kings 18:33, 34, 35,
33 “Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 35 Who among the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand; that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
Isaiah also compared Hamath with Arpad, another city in Northwest Syria. Arpad had been destroyed after a three-year siege, but in 720 B.C. it attempted to revolt. The revolt was put down, and Arpad then remained loyal to Assyria. Its gods were unable to make it independent.
Isaiah 10:10 shows that this prophecy was written some time after the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C. It is interesting that Isaiah 10:11 prophesies what Rabshakeh would say at the siege of Jerusalem. Compare Isaiah 10:11 with 2 Kings 18:35 above.
Isaiah 10:12-14 says,
12 So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” 13 For he has said, “By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, for I have understanding; and I removed the boundaries of the peoples and plundered their treasures, and like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants. 14 And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, and as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; and there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped.”
The Assyrian king thought that he was conquering by his own strength and by his own free will. He did not recognize that God had authorized him to do this in order to bring judgment upon the idolatrous Israelites and Judahites. Hence, he refused to give God credit for his conquests, even as he had refused to judge the nations according to the laws of God.
For this reason, God would judge Assyria, even as He had judged Israel and Judah, for God is impartial in His judgments.