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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 10

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Actually, the first four verses of this chapter could have been logically included with the previous chapter, since they form the fourth stanza, following the first three in Isaiah 9, each stanza followed by the refrain: “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is outstretched still.”

Of course, it should be remembered that both chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are in many instances arbitrary and illogical; but long usage has made it a practical impossibility to change or correct them. “The present division into chapters was made by Cardinal Hugo in 1250 A.D.; and into verses, by Robert Stephens the famous printer of Paris, in 1551 A.D.”(F1)

The stubbornness of Ephraim is almost unbelievable; for no matter what disasters overcame the nation they persisted in following their idolatrous, shameful rebellion against the Lord. The great difference between Ephraim and Judah was in the existence of a righteous remnant in the Southern Israel; whereas, in Northern Israel, the Lord said, “Everyone is profane and an evil-doer, and every mouth speaketh folly” (Isaiah 9:17). Their apostasy was thus complete, and there was nothing further that even God could have done for Ephraim except what he did, namely, destroy them, just as God had done long previously to practically the whole race of Adam on the occasion of the Great Deluge.

Verses 1-4


“Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and to the writers that write perverseness; to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey. And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory? They shall only bow down under the prisoners, and fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.”

A quick overview of these four stanzas, or strophes, will reveal the totality and dreadful finality of the prophecy:

THE DOOM OF EPHRAIM (Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4)

Strophe One, Isaiah 9:8-12

This is a judgment against Ephraim for laughing off the facts, for mocking reality, and for their egotistical bragging about how they would overcome God’s punishments. If bricks and sycamores are destroyed, Ephraim will replace them with hewn stones and cedars!

Strophe Two, Isaiah 9:13-17

Here is a judgment against permissiveness, error, and false leadership. The eloquent comparison of crooked priests to the tail of a dog shows that it was the departure from God’s truth that caused their apostasy.

Strophe Three, Isaiah 9:18-21

Here is a judgment against disunity, internal discord and strife. With even their former allies at last turning against Ephraim, and with the Ten Tribes fighting against each other, their final ruin would follow in the deportation of the heart of the nation to Assyria. This took place in 722 B.C.

Strophe Four, Isaiah 10:1-4

This judgment is against the central government and the judiciary, against those who made and administered the laws. It has often been observed that when these arms of human society fail, there can remain little hope for that society. Although these prophecies against Ephraim were principally focused upon the Northern Israel, they also spilled over in their application to Judah also. God’s anger at all of Israel’s pride and wickedness was approaching the flash point.

Before leaving these first four verses, we wish to notice somewhat further the question:


This is the third in a series of questions regarding ultimate values as contrasted with that which is earthly, temporary, and ephemeral. Every mortal who gives his life to the amassing of treasures, the pursuit of power, or in chasing the butterflies of happiness supposed to lie at the foot of some fantasy rainbow - every such mortal should ask himself, “What are you going to do with it?” What will it be worth to you in the Day of Judgment? and, how is it going to help you when calamity comes upon you?” our Lord raised the same soul-searching question when he addressed the rich fool of Luke 12:20: “Whose shall those things be?” (KJV) “You cannot save them. With whom will ye deposit your riches, your magnificence, your treasures, your grand apparel? Is there anyone to whom you can flee? anyone who can protect you from the wrath of God?”

Verses 5-11

“Ho Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, the staff in whose hand is mine indignation! I will send him against a profane nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few. For he saith, Are not my princes all of them kings? Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus? As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria; shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?”

Rawlinson, in his outline of Isaiah, made this the beginning of the division reaching through Isaiah 23, but, following Robinson (See Introduction), we believe the close connection with the fate of Judah and Jerusalem indicate rather that it belongs with the first division, Isaiah 1-12.

“Ho Assyrian” This paragraph prophecies the destruction of Assyria, and at the same time also identifies this evil power as “The Rod” of God with which Jehovah will punish his hypocritical and profane people Israel. Assyria is thus the instrument God will use for the accomplishment of his purpose to punish Israel. This metaphor of God’s using wicked nations to achieve his purpose, and then turning upon those wicked powers in their ruin to punish them and destroy them is extensively mentioned in the Old Testament. Back in Isaiah 7:20 Assyria was identified as “God’s razor, other examples of the recurrence of this metaphor identify such wicked powers as “God’s bows” (Isaiah 13:17), “God’s battle-ax” (Jeremiah 51:20), and “God’s arrows” (Jeremiah 51:11).

The words “Ho Assyrian” actually mean, “Woe betide this Assyria” as in James Moffatt’s translation of the Old Testament. Cheyne rendered it, “Woe is Asher.”(F2)

“A profane nation” According to Rawlinson, hypocritical or a corrupt nation would be preferable to profane in this verse.(F3)

“However he meaneth not so” This means that Assyria had no intention or desire whatever to serve God’s purpose in the destruction of Israel. Ah no! Assyria was motivated by blood-lust, insatiable greed and ambition, sadistic cruelty, and arrogant opposition to God himself, totally unaware, that when he had shortly fulfilled God’s purpose, the Lord would also totally destroy Assyria. Rabshakeh’s proud boast that he had Jehovah with him when he went up against Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:25) was more than likely nothing but a ploy to frighten the city. “He had probably heard of the prophecies of the Judean prophets.”(F4)

Isaiah 10:8-11 carry the arrogant boasts of Assyria. They do not for an instant see that God is using them. No! All of their exploits are due to their own power and their own devices! Just look at the cities they have already destroyed! Look at the gods they have already defeated. “Insignificant little Judah with their puny gods (nothing to compare with the costly and excellent idols of cities already taken), they declared, would easily fall.”(F5)

This paragraph raises a question regarding the date of this prophecy. Hailey quoted Young as giving the dates when the cities mentioned here were taken by the Assyrians: “Calno in 738 B.C.; Carchemesh on the Euphrates in 717 B.C.; Hamath on the Orontes in 720 B.C.; Arpad in 740, 720 B.C.; Samaria in 722 B.C.; and Damascus in 732 B.C.”(F6) Delitzsch believed the prophecy was written before these conquests took place, because Isaiah often spoke of future events as having already taken place.(F7) Hailey believed it more probable that “This prophecy was written between the dates of the fall of Carchemesh (717 B.C.) and that of Sennacherib investiture of Jerusalem in (702-701 B.C.).”(F8)

It appears to us that there may be good reasons for accepting the position of Delitzsch on this. McGuiggan’s warning that we should remember that, “Isaiah often speaks of things having been accomplished that are still in the future,”(F9) most certainly should be heeded. We shall observe many examples of this use of the present or the past tense for speaking of future events in Isaiah. First, “Isaiah 10:20-23 leave an impression that Ephraim has not fallen yet.”(F10)

“The Assyrians’ argument in Isaiah 10:10-11 is: “How can Jerusalem, with fewer gods to protect it, hope to hold out successfully?.”(F11)

Verses 12-14

“Wherefore it shall come to pass, that, when the Lord has performed his whole work upon mount Zion, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he hath said, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I have understanding: and I have removed the bounds of the peoples, and have robbed their treasures, and like a valiant man I have brought down them that sit on thrones: and my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that are forsaken, have I gathered all the earth: and there was none that moved the wing, or that opened the mouth, or chirped.”

The interesting change of persons in Isaiah 10:12, from the second (the Lord) to the first (I will) is not at all unusual in the Old Testament.

No, God had not accepted the wickedness of a kingdom like Assyria. The rod of divine punishment was already laid up against that evil nation; and the reason was stated here. This arrogant and boastful power had bragged that they knew all of the answers. They thought they had the ability to destroy any nation on earth as handily as one could rob a bird nest and with no more opposition than a helpless little bird would be able to provide against such a catastrophe. There was not even the flutter of a wing, or the chirping of a bird. The rapacious cruelty and blood-lust of Assyria reached a pinnacle of such behavior in ancient history.

Verses 15-19

“Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? shall the saw magnify itself against him that wieldeth it? as if a rod should wield him that lifteth it up, or as if a staff should lift up him that is not wood. Therefore will the Lord, Jehovah of hosts send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory there shall be kindled a burning like the burning of fire. And the light of Israel will be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame; and it will burn and destroy his thorns and his briers in one day. And he will consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and it shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth. And the remnant of the trees of his forest shall be few, so that a child may write them.”

The rebuke here is against Assyria. How ignorant and how stupid they were not to see that God was merely using them, that all of their exploits would have been impossible without his permission; and that all the while they were hastening to the day when they also would be severely punished by the Lord. The words here have the force of saying, “How can Assyria, being but an instrument of God, exalt himself against Jehovah?”(F12)

“Like the burning of fire” This is thought by scholars to refer to a terrible sickness such as a very high fever. Peake called it a wasting disease;(F13) and Kidner identified the two metaphors here as, “fever, and a forest fire.”(F14) The big point in the prophecy, however, is not what will cause the disaster, whether a disease or a forest fire, but the suddenness with which it will fall. “In one day… Isaiah anticipates a sudden catastrophe for the Assyrians.”(F15) Without a doubt, this is a prophecy of the destruction of Sennacherib army to terminate his siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 36). The mysterious death of so many of his army seems to have resulted from some sudden and fatal illness.

Verses 20-23

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and they that are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again lean upon him that smote them, but shall lean upon Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel in truth. A remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God. For though thy people, Israel, be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them shall return: a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a full end, and that determined, will the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, make in the midst of the earth.”

It should be remembered that the name of Isaiah’s first son Shear-jashub has the meaning of, “A remnant shall return,” thus certifying the authenticity and early date of Isaiah’s receiving these great prophecies of the wholesale destruction of Israel, the deportation of the nation as a whole, and the return of a small remnant.

It is significant that here the prophet takes one of the titles of the Messianic Prince given in Isaiah 9 and applies it to Almighty God himself.

There is a prophecy in these verses that Israel “in that day” will no longer rely upon alliances with foreign powers as Ahaz had done in the case of Assyria; and Cheyne pointed out that indeed all of this came to pass during the Babylonian captivity. “`The remnant’ of Israel was weaned from its false confidences and returned to God.”(F16) After the return of the “remnant,” there were never any more examples of Israel lapsing into idolatry.

As Archer observed, “No matter how small a fraction `that remnant’ might prove to be, after the judgments of God had fallen on the apostate nation, the future would lie with them.”(F17)

Verses 24-27

“Therefore thus saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians, though he smite thee with the rod, and lift up his staff against thee after the manner of Egypt. For yet a very little while, and the indignation against thee shall be accomplished, and mine anger shall be directed to his destruction. And Jehovah of hosts shall stir up against him a scourge, as in the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; and his rod will be over the sea, and he will lift it up after the manner of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall depart from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and thy yoke shall be destroyed by reason of fatness.”

The last clause of Isaiah 10:27 here is said by some scholars to be difficult because of imperfections in the text; and that may very well be, because the metaphor of Israel getting so fat that they can throw off the yoke of Assyria simply does not fit. We like the suggestion of Jamieson that there is a reference to the Messiah here. The alternate reading for “fatness” in the Cross-Reference Bible is “oil,”(F18) evidently meaning the anointing oil. “Just as in Isaiah 9:4-6 the breaking of the yoke of the enemies is attributed to Messiah, so it is here.”(F19) Dummelow also honored this understanding of the place thus:

“Because of the anointing, i.e., because of the anointed king of David’s house, to which God has promised a lasting kingdom.”(F20)

“His rod will be over the sea” This is a promise that Jehovah will lift up his rod for the protection of his people and the destruction of their enemies, just like God through Moses had done so long ago when that action rescued Israel and destroyed Egypt at the Red Sea.(F21)

Verses 28-32

“He is come to Aiath, he is passed through Migron; at Micmash he layeth up his baggage; they are gone over the pass; they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramah trembleth; Gibeah of Saul is fled. Cry aloud with thy voice, O daughter of Gallim! Hearken O Laisha! O thou poor Anathoth! Madmenah is a fugitive; the inhabitants of Gebim flee for safety. This very day shall he halt at Nob: he shaketh his hand at the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.”

“These verses are a prophecy of Sennacherib’s army’s approach of Jerusalem in order to invest it.”(F22)

Here is another reason for our preferring the view that all of these verses are prophecy, not history. Note that Isaiah here represented Assyria’s approach as being from the north; but actually, as Kidner pointed out the final approach was probably from Lachish which is southwest of Jerusalem;(F23) but in a prophecy, Lachish would most surely have been grouped with all of the nearby cities lying in the vicinity of Jerusalem, nearly all of which were indeed north of the city. This lone city lying somewhat to the southwest does not compromise the language of the prophecy in any manner.

These verses pause with the great Assyrian army poised to strike; but at the very last moment, when it seemed that all was lost, God intervened and put his hook in the nose of the invader and hauled him back to Nineveh. Isaiah will elaborate this event more fully in Isaiah 36.

Verses 33-34

“Behold, the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, will lop the boughs with terror: and the high of stature shall be hewn down, and the lofty shall be brought low. And he will cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.”

“Lebanon is here a metaphor, because of their (Assyria’s) forests of cedars.”(F24) The only hint provided in this chapter of just how such a mighty deliverance is to come about is found in Isaiah 10:26 where it is revealed that it would resemble in some way the slaughter of Midian and of the Egyptians. This is a pledge that the deliverance will not come by an army, or by any human device, but that the deliverance shall be of God and of him only. The mighty one who is depicted here as cutting down the forest of Lebanon (a metaphor for Assyria) is, of course, God himself.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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