Monday, July 18, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 27

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 27

Sunday's passage dealt with God's judgment on Israel for her injustice and lack of compassion on the poor and the weak. Today's passage deals with God's judgment on Assyria, Israel's enemy, who also lacks compassion for the poor and the weak. Israel had not yet been conquered by Assyria when the Lord gave these prophecies but passages like this one today will be a welcome hope for the people in their coming troubles. Later on, sitting captive in a foreign land, these words will be like music to their ears.

"Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath!" (Isaiah 10:5) We talked the other day about how God is dealing with Israel like a Father disciplining a wayward child. Assyria is the "rod" or the "paddle" He uses to apply the discipline, but as Barry G. Webb says in his book The Message Of Isaiah, "this did not absolve Assyria of moral accountability". The Lord allowed Israel to be conquered by this pagan nation, just as He later allowed Judah to be conquered by pagan Babylon, but Assyria's day is coming. She will be vanquished by Babylon and Babylon in turn will be overthrown by Persia.

The Lord is able to use any method He chooses to discipline wayward children. Whoever or whatever He uses may be no more righteous than we are, (they may, in fact, be quite wicked), but that doesn't mean their judgment isn't coming. We noted in our study of the kings that at times the Lord allowed very wicked kings to rise up in order to oppress the people to the point of repentance. In times of discontent we are more likely to think about what might be wrong in our lives that has brought the trouble upon us. It's intended to convince us we need to turn around and go back in the right direction. But that does not mean God lets our oppressors off the hook. If any human being or even Satan himself mistreats us because God allowed them to do what comes naturally to them, He will still judge them for their cruelty. A few profoundly cruel things have been done to me in my life and, although the Lord worked these things out for my good, those who did them will still have to answer to Him.

The Lord explains His purpose in using Assyria's king as an instrument of discipline, "I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger Me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets." (Isaiah 10:6) By the time she is conquered, Israel will have become about as godless as Assyria, so it isn't a case of God letting an enemy attack faithful people. It's a case of one idolatrous people fighting against another. 

But Assyria intends to overreach her purpose. God broke down His protective hedge around Israel so this enemy could pour in, but they go above and beyond what is necessary to subdue a nation. The Lord let the Assyrian king in to "seize loot and snatch plunder", to humble the Israelites, "But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations." (Isaiah 10:7) The Assyrian king wants to overwhelm the entire region and destroy the Arameans, the Israelites, the Judeans, and all the people of the area. He views himself as the greatest king on earth, the greatest king in history, and he pictures himself conquering the known world. 

Assyria's king is boastful that he will come to Judah and overthrow Jerusalem just as he has overthrown the capitols of other nations, "'Are not my commanders all kings?' he says. 'Has not Kalno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria---shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?'" (Isaiah 10:8-11) The king does not know it, but at this point he is boasting against the living God. He will not succeed in trampling Jerusalem underfoot for the very reason he believes it will be easy to do so: her images are few and unimpressive compared to the images the other nations possessed. This is because Judah has not yet fallen as far into idolatry as her neighbors. When King Sennacherib sends his army to stand outside the gates of Jerusalem and threaten siege, Judah's godly King Hezekiah will cry out to the Lord for help and the Lord will answer. 

It's ironic that the king brags no nation's gods have resisted him and that the idols of Jerusalem are pitiful in comparison to the idols that have already fallen. It's precisely for this reason that he will fail to take Jerusalem. Jerusalem's God does not reside in a carved block of wood overlaid with gold. Jerusalem's God is the great I Am, the Creator of all things, who is so big and so awesome that "the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain" Him. (1 Kings 8:27) 

The oppression by Assyria is for a specific purpose and for a limited time. God does not bring harsher discipline than necessary and He does not allow it to continue longer than necessary. The Assyrians were well-known for their enjoyment of humiliating their captives but God will judge their cruelty. They will reap what they have sown. They who have taken so many captive will become captives themselves. "When the Lord has finished all His work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, He will say, 'I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.'" (Isaiah 10:12) There were actually several kings who ruled Assyria during the years they oppressed Israel and Judah, but the Lord speaks of them as if they are all the same because the spirit in them was the same. They believed they were invincible, that they had a right to rule the world, that they were worthy to have all other kings bow to them, and that no god could stand up to them. 

The Assyrians had a haughty spirit and King Solomon included this type of spirit in a list of seven things the Lord cannot stand. "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community." (Proverbs 6:16-19) Solomon also warned, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18) God would not be true to His word if He did not punish Assyria for their superior attitude and for their genocide of the peoples around them. Their haughty spirit will be their downfall. 

The prophecy of future vindication may not have meant much to a people who scorned Isaiah's words in favor of false prophecies of coming peace, but someday the captive Israelites and the fearful people of Judah will cling to the promises of today's passage. God will be the enemy of their enemy. God will treat Assyria just as Assyria has treated them. A time is coming when the Lord will have "finished all His work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem" and that is when He will say "I will punish the king of Assyria". 

In troubled times God's promises may be all we have, but they will be enough. They will get us through. He will be the enemy of our enemy. He will punish the haughty spirit that dared to perpetrate cruelty upon His children. We have an enemy greater than any human enemy but he has the same haughty spirit that was in the king of Assyria, the same attitude that the Lord hates. Satan, the enemy of our souls, will be punished by our faithful Father who will give us the satisfaction of trampling him underfoot. "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a) 

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