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2. Measurement by God’s standard 9:8-10:4
This section of the book focuses on the Northern Kingdom, and it ties in with the section immediately preceding concerning the Messiah (Isaiah 9:2-7). It explains why Ephraim’s plans against Judah would fail. They would not fail because of Ahaz’s alliance with Assyria but because God would frustrate them. Ephraim would not go into captivity because she lacked sufficient military strength but because she failed to measure up to the standard God had set for her. This standard lay in the area of moral rectitude through covenant obedience rather than military resources.
"The great light would not arise till the darkness had reached its deepest point. The gradual increase of this darkness is predicted in this second section of the esoteric addresses [Isaiah 8:5 to Isaiah 12:6]." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:255.]
This section, a poem, consists of four strophes, each ending with the refrain: "In spite of all this His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out" (Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 9:21; Isaiah 10:4; cf. Isaiah 5:25). The progression of thought is from pride, to flawed leadership, to selfishness, to social injustice.
The Ephraimite leaders were using their positions to deprive the needy of their rights and to obtain what the poor had for themselves. They were evidently favoring legislation that resulted in these ends, as well as perverting the justice that was in place in the Mosaic system. The situation was so bad in Israel that the Lord chose to abandon His customary defense of the defenseless.
The oppression of the helpless 10:1-4
Isaiah directed this last strophe against the unjust authorities and judges.
When God brought Ephraim into judgment, he would have nowhere to hide and no one to protect him (cf. Matthew 24:45-51). Then he would be the needy without defense or recourse. For the fourth time, God promised that He would judge Ephraim (cf. Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 9:21).
Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom, had more reason to fear God than he had to fear Assyria. Yahweh would discipline him because of his pride, corrupt leadership, selfishness, and oppression of his vulnerable citizens. He would not suffer defeat because of military inferiority but for moral inadequacy.
"Woe" (Heb. hoy) introduces a judgment oracle. Assyria was like a rod in God’s hand; He controlled her actions. He would send her to discipline godless Judah, against whom God’s fury burned: "to capture booty and to seize plunder" (Isaiah 10:6, the meaning of Maher-shalal-hash-baz’s name, Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 8:3). However, Assyria was in for woe herself (cf. Isaiah 10:1) because she failed to acknowledge that she was under the sovereign authority of Yahweh.
The instrument of destruction 10:5-11
Assyria was simply an unwitting tool in Yahweh’s hand that He would use to accomplish His purposes (cf. Habakkuk 1:12-17). This pericope is one of the greatest revelations of the relation between heaven and earth in the Bible. [Note: Motyer, p. 112.]
3. Hope of God’s deliverance 10:5-11:16
Earlier God revealed that He would use Assyria to destroy Judah for her lack of trust in Yahweh (Isaiah 7:1 to Isaiah 8:22). Now He revealed that He would also destroy this destroyer (cf. Habakkuk 2:4-20). It is God who is sovereign, not Assyria, and He was with His people.
"The Messianic prophecy, which turns its darker side towards unbelief in ch. vii., and whose promising aspect burst like a great light through the darkness in ch. viii. 5-ix. 6, is standing now upon its third and highest stage. In ch. vii. it is like a star in the night; in ch. viii. 5-ix. 6, like the morning dawn; and now the sky is perfectly cloudless, and it appears like the noonday sun." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:264.]
The destruction of the destroyer 10:5-34
This segment presents Yahweh as the transcendent God who controls the destiny of all nations. He creates history just as He created the cosmos. The victory of the Assyrians did not prove the superiority of her gods, nor did Judah’s defeat mean that Yahweh was inferior. The whole passage contrasts sovereignties: Assyria’s and Yahweh’s.
Assyria did not consciously serve God. She planned to pursue her own selfish purposes and to destroy many nations to expand her own empire. She mistakenly thought she was sovereign.
Assyria, in her unrealistic pride, boasted, in the person of her king, that her princes were the equivalent of kings, so great was their authority. She assumed that the cities of Judah were the same as the cities of other nations, namely, without Yahweh’s special concern and protection. She mistakenly thought that Judah’s God was just another god (cf. 2 Kings 18:33-35). Therefore she planned to do to Judah and Jerusalem just as she had done to other nations and their great cities. In each of the three pairs of cities listed (Isaiah 10:9), the first is farther southwest than the second. The prophet portrayed the Assyrian king as thinking: "I took this one that is closer to me, so I can take that other one that is farther from me."
When God finished using Assyria as His rod to punish Mt. Zion and Jerusalem, He would punish Assyria, too, for her arrogance and haughtiness. The prose form of this verse, which serves as a climax in a long section of poetry, makes this major point stand out all the more clearly.
"God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are always in perfect balance in the Word of God. Even though we are not able to reconcile these paradoxical facts, we can believe both because the Bible teaches both. God is sovereign in His universe; and at the same time man is fully accountable to God for all his acts." [Note: A. Martin, Isaiah . . ., p. 43.]
The object of destruction 10:12-19
Assyria, again personified (cf. Isaiah 10:8-11), manifested arrogance and haughtiness by boasting that all her victories were the result of her own strength and intelligence (cf. Romans 1:19-21). She felt, as many nations have, including Nazi Germany, that she was superior and therefore had the right to determine the fates of inferiors. She had a right to steal from others who could not or would not defend themselves. Changing the boundaries of conquered nations was an integral part of Assyrian imperial practice, along with the relocation of captives. [Note: Watts, p. 150.]
It is illogical, the prophet pointed out, for the impersonal instrument of judgment to exalt itself over the Person who wields it.
Because of Assyria’s pride, sovereign Yahweh of armies would defeat this mighty foe. Isaiah described her fall as resulting from a wasting disease and a consuming fire. In Hebrew, in contrast to English, mixed metaphors add strength to a description rather than weakening it.
The Assyrians were jumping into a fire by invading Jerusalem. The fire would come from the light of Israel, namely: her holy God (cf. Isaiah 8:12-15). This fire would consume the small and the great in Assyria: from the lowly thorns, to the beautiful garden plants, to the mighty trees of the forest.
The remaining trees (leaders) would be so few that a small child would be able to count them.
In 701 B.C. the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem and God slew 185,000 of them in one night (Isaiah 37:36-37). The Babylonians felled the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C. One scholar believed that all of what Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 10:5-19 was fulfilled between the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. and the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. [Note: Archer, p. 620.]
In some future day, the remnant (cf. Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 7:3) who escaped annihilation by the Assyrians would no longer trust in man for deliverance, as Ahaz and Judah did before the Assyrian takeover. They would learn this most important lesson and truly trust in Yahweh, the holy one of Israel. Thus Israel would be the really wise and strong nation, not Assyria (cf. Isaiah 10:13). Israel, as well as Assyria (Isaiah 10:19), would have a remnant left over after the Lord’s destruction of both nations.
The promise of restoration 10:20-27
The focus of the prophecy shifts from Assyria to Israel.
A remnant would return (Shearjashub, Isaiah 7:3) to the genuinely mighty God. It would be a remnant of the whole house of Jacob, from all the Israelites. The reference to the mighty God (cf. Isaiah 9:5), along with the sincere change of attitude in Israel-one that has not yet taken place-points to a time of fulfillment in the eschatological future. "That day" (Isaiah 10:20), as elsewhere, is a millennial reference here.
"The remnant is not a super-spiritual elite looking down on others, but they do dare to live by faith in God." [Note: Ortlund, p. 94.]
God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand grains of the sea (Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12). This did not mean, as the Israelites in Isaiah’s day apparently concluded, that they would always be a large people. No, God would so thoroughly destroy them because of their sin that only a small number would survive (cf. Romans 9:27-28). The sovereign Yahweh of armies would destroy them throughout the whole Promised Land, not just in the Northern Kingdom.
The Lord used reminders of two previous deliverances to encourage the residents of Jerusalem to believe that they would survive the attack of a stronger and larger foe. He had delivered their forefathers from Egypt and the Midianites, and He had destroyed the Egyptians and the Midianites (Judges 7:25). The rock of Oreb got its name from the Midianite Prince Oreb, who escaped death in the battle with the Israelites, but died when he fled. Similarly, Sennacherib did not perish with his army but died after he returned home. The Assyrian oppression would not last long (cf. Isaiah 9:4), and God would then punish the disciplinarian of His people. God’s blessing on His people would be responsible for the breaking of the yoke of bondage on them.
Isaiah foresaw the Assyrian army descending on Jerusalem from the north, passing through various towns, and finally arriving at Nob just north of Jerusalem. From that location, probably modern Mt. Scopus, which was somewhat higher in elevation than Mt. Zion, the enemy looked down on Jerusalem and shook his fist menacingly. All the towns and villages mentioned stood only a few miles north and east of Jerusalem.
A description of Assyria’s attack and judgment 10:28-34
The prophet now changed his perspective as well as his figure. Even though Assyria would menace and, indeed, destroy Jerusalem, Yahweh of armies would cut the enemy down to size as a lumberjack trimmed branches off a tree and finally felled it. God’s irresistible instrument would cut back Assyria’s many lofty leaders. This would be a felling as colossal as the harvesting of Lebanon’s vast forests (cf. Ezekiel 31:3).
"The . . . ’forest thickets’ refers to thick underbrush that must be cleared to allow the fine trees to grow. . . .’the Lebanon’ refers, not to a country as today, but to a region on the slopes of Mount Hermon to the north of Israel. It was renowned for the magnificent gigantic trees which grew there." [Note: Watts, p. 166.]
This prophecy found literal fulfillment when God Himself defeated the Assyrians in 605 B.C. (ch. 37).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany