Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger; the staff in their hands is My wrath.
I. A WARLIKE POWER MAY BE THE PENAL INSTRUMENT OF PROVIDENCE. Assyria is here described as the "staff of Jehovah's anger," the "rod of his wrath," appointed to march against a people who have excited the Divine indignation. As he plunders and spoils, and proceeds on his devastating way, he may be in effect like Attila, the "scourge of God," destined like a wholesome tempest to purify the moral air of a corrupt age, and to prepare for a better sanitary state.
II. YET HE WHO IS BUT AN INSTRUMENT OF ANOTHER WILL MAY IGNORE HIS OFFICE AND WORK. The Assyrian's thoughts are bent on destruction. His motive is personal ambition. In haughty pride he not only overvalues his power, but mistakes its nature. His courtiers, he vaunts, are equal to kings. All foreign lands without distinction are to meet the same doom from him. As the heathen kingdoms of the north have been subdued by him, powerful and many as the gods had been, so the little kingdom of Judah, with its few gods or idols, will not be able to withstand him. As a heathen, the Assyrian recognizes, though in a mistaken way, the power of religion as the mainstay of a state. The idols or fetishes are to him the signs of a real supernatural power residing in the nation.
III. DIVINE DENUNCIATION OF VAIN-GLORY. When Jehovah executes his judgments at the right time, this insolent pride will be punished.
1. Its folly exposed. The prophet reads the heart of the vain-glorious conqueror. He is saying to himself, "It was the strength of my hand, it was the clearness of my own intelligence, that accomplished these victories, that cast down my powerful foes. I was like a boy pillaging a deserted nest."
2. Its fallacy rebuked. It is as it' the axe should boast that it does the work of the hewer, or as if the saw were to brag against the sawyer, or the staff were to boast that it swings the hand of him who holds it - that the lifeless instrument raises the living hand. How deeply do these thoughts run through the lore of Israel down to Paul, who uses the image of the potter and the clay in a similar manner! Says Lord Bacon, "It was prettily devised of AEsop; the fly sat upon the axletree of the chariot-wheel, and said,' What a dust do I raise!' So there are. stone vain persons, that whatsoever goeth alone or moveth upon greater means, if they have ever so little hand in it, they think it is they that carry it." But
"All service ranks the same with God -
With God, whose puppets, best and worst,
Are we; there is no last nor first." ? J.
What are the nations but instruments in the hands of Him who made them? So we are puzzled and perplexed by many an imperial policy; we do not like it, and yet still it proceeds to work out all its mysterious issues — now severe, now beneficent. We are in tumult and darkness and perplexity, thick and that cannot be disentangled; and how seldom we realise the fact that all this may be a Divine movement, clouding of the Divine presence, and an outworking of Divine and eternal purposes.
"Ho Asshur," the name both of the people and its national god.
The leading idea of the passage is the contrast between the mission assigned to Assyria in the scheme of Jehovah's providence, and the ambitious policy of universal dominion cherished by the rulers of that empire, Assyria was the instrument chosen by Jehovah to manifest His sole Deity by the extinction of all the nationalities that put their trust in false gods. But the great world power, intoxicated by its success, and attributing this to its own wisdom and resource, recognises no difference between Jehovah and other gods, but confidently reckons on proving His impotence by the subjugation of His land and people. Hence, it becomes necessary for Jehovah to vindicate His supreme Godhead by the destruction of the power which has thus impiously transgressed the limits of His providential commission. And this judgment will take plebe at the very moment when Assyria seeks to crown its career of conquest by an assault on Jehovah's sanctuary on Mount Zion, the earthly seat of His government.
We must not omit the reflection that this was a terrible thing for Assyria. What man likes to be an instrument through which righteousness will punish some other man! Who would willingly accept a calling and election so severe?
()in Christ's sense, that flood of successful, heartless, unscrupulous, scornful forces which burst on our innocence, with their challenge to make terms and pay tribute, or go down straightway in the struggle for existence...It is useless to think that we common men cannot possibly sin after the grand manner of this imperial monster. In our measure we fatally can. In this commercial age private persons very easily rise to a position of influence which gives almost as vast a stage for egotism to display itself as the Assyrian boasted. But after all the human Ego needs very little room to develop the possibilities of atheism that are in it. An idol is an idol, whether you put it on a small or a large pedestal. A little man with a little work may as easily stand between himself and God as an emperor with the world at his feet. Forgetfulness that he is a servant, a trader on graciously intrusted capital — and then at the best an unprofitable one — is not less sinful in a small egoist than in a great one; it is only very much more ridiculous than Isaiah, with his scorn, has made it to appear in the Assyrian.
()which have swept upon the knowledge of this generation with the novelty and impetus with which the northern hosts burst across the horizon of Israel. Men today, in the course of their education, become acquainted with laws and forces which dwarf the simpler theologies of their boyhood, pretty much as the primitive beliefs of Israel dwindled before the arrogant face of Assyria. The alternative confronts them either to retain, with a narrowed and fearful heart, their old conceptions of God, or to find their enthusiasm in studying, and their duty in relating themselves to, the forces of nature alone. If this be the only alternative, there can be no doubt but that most men will take the latter course. We ought as little to wonder at men of today abandoning certain theologies and forms of religion for a downright naturalism — for the study of powers that appeal so much to the curiosity and reverence of man — as we wonder at the poor Jews of the eighth century before Christ forsaking their provincial conceptions of God as a tribal Deity for homage to this great Assyrian who handled the nations and their gods as his playthings. But is such the only alternative? Is there no higher and sovereign conception of God, in which even these natural forces may find their explanation and term? Isaiah found such a conception for his problem, and his problem was very similar to ours. Beneath his idea of God, exalted and spiritual, even the imperial Assyrian, in all his arrogance, fell subordinate and serviceable. The prophet's faith never wavered, and in the end was vindicated by history. Shall we not at least attempt his method of solution? We could not do better than by taking his factors. Isaiah got a God more powerful than Assyria, by simply exalting the old God of his nation in righteousness.
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