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There is a vast difference between the Sovereign God who is working out His purposes in history and the wicked nations He uses as tools to accomplish His purposes. Here is some special insight for you: There are no nations that are not wicked nations in the eyes of God. How can I say that? When it comes to individuals, we know that “there is none righteous, no not one.” Every nation is just a union of wicked people. But the comforting thought is that God is in total control of every one of these wicked nations – from the least significant pauper to the chief rulers who might imagine that they are the king of the hill like the pompous Yertle the Turtle:

“All mine!” Yertle cried. “Oh, the things I now rule!

I’m the king of a cow! And I’m the king of a mule!

I’m the king of a house! And, what’s more, beyond that

I’m the king of a blueberry bush and a cat!

I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me!

For I am the ruler of all that I see!”

Reminds one of King Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel. Think of the wicked nations that made world domination their driving agenda. Where are those kingdoms now? Assyria was such a nation. They had a reputation for extreme cruelty in how they conquered other cities and how they treated their captives. Their soldiers would strap on to their feet sandals with spikes on the bottom so as they would trample over those who had fallen in battle, the blood would ooze up between their toes. Yet this was the wicked nation the Lord had chosen as His instrument of judgment against His own people Israel.

The larger theological issue in play is the age old tension between the sovereignty of God and the moral responsibility of those agents He chose to use. The Scripture clearly teach both truths. Many examples could be cited:

– Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers – Gen. 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

– King David on the run from Absalom, being cursed by Shimei – 2 Sam. 16:9-14 “Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him.” God had sent and commissioned Shimei to curse David just as He sent and commissioned the Assyrians.

– Most famously, Acts 2:23 “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” – How could God then find fault and hold these men accountable?

Yet both truths must be maintained without watering down either one – God is in control of even the wicked actions of wicked world rulers (even Hitler and barbaric rulers in our day); yet God holds all men morally responsible for all of their actions


“Woe to Assyria,”

Look at how God had already indicated that Assyria only acted on His command … to carry out His decree of judgment against His people:

– Is. 5:26 – earlier prophecies that God would raise up Assyria – whistle to summon them quickly;

– Is. 7:18-19 “whistle for the fly and bee”; incredible vast armies of Assyria and Egypt;

– Is. 8:7 “the strong and abundant waters of the Euphrates”; call them just like a flood;

Yet God is here introducing an oracle of judgment and doom against this nation that had served as the tool of His judgment

“Woe” – is not a new word for us in this prophetic book – Isaiah had proclaimed such a Woe on himself back in Chap. 6 when he saw the vision of the holiness of God and his own sinfulness;

Chap. 5 was filled with Woes against the wicked for their many injustices;

Chap. 10:1 had concluded a section of judgment against Israel with a proclamation of “Woe”

Now the prophet turns his attention to Assyria




A. (:5-6) Sovereign Purpose for Assyria

1. Instrument to Execute Judgment for God’s Anger

“the rod of My anger”

“And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,”

Different words used for anger, indignation, fury

Motyer: The word translated anger is ‘ap, which means “nose” and hence hard breathing or the snort that betokens exasperations. It is, therefore, anger as a felt emotion. Wrath (za’am) is expressed anger, in word or deed (the verb means “to scold, hurl imprecations”).

Contrast between inanimate objects that have no thought process and the Sovereign God who wields these objects to accomplish His purposes

2. Directed Against Apostate Israel

“I send it against a godless nation”

“And commission it against the people of My fury”

No longer calling them the people of God

Utley: What irony, the covenant people are called “godless” and made morally equivalent to “godless” Assyria!

There is a sending and a commissioning that derives from the one who is in control

In terms of our spiritual giftedness, we are the ones who have been sent and commissioned by the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ – must consider ourselves as His instruments – jars of clay – don’t try to take credit; no room for boasting or pride in self; no reason to advance self in pride and arrogance; no justification for worshiping God’s servants; we are a brotherhood and sisterhood; nothing hierarchical in our relationships

3. Intent on Disciplining Them Severely – 3 Expressions of Divine Purpose

“To capture booty and to seize plunder”

“And to trample them down like mud in the streets.”

Utley: “To capture booty and to seize plunder” As v. 21, “a remnant will return,” reflects Isaiah’s first son’s name (cf. 7:3), this reflects his second son’s symbolic name (cf. 8:1,3).

B. (:7-11) Assyrian Purpose

1. Different from God’s Purpose – Arrogant view of its own sovereignty

“Yet it does not so intend

Nor does it plan so in its heart,”

Nations exist based on power allowed to them and delegated to them by God

Look at what motivates their agenda:

2. Motivated by World Dominion – Over the top agenda

“But rather it is its purpose to destroy,

And to cut off many nations.”

Van Parunak: In their mind, Israel is just another nation to conquer. They intend to subdue many nations, one of which just happens to be Israel. The Assyrian’s proud confidence is based in his assessment of three things: his strength of his own forces, the weakness of his adversaries, and the impotence of the gods of all the other lands.

3. (:8) Motivated by Top Dog Syndrome — Promoting Pawns to Kings

“For it says, ‘Are not my princes all kings?’”

Van Parunak: The Assyrian king views his commanders as the equivalent of kings of other nations.

4. (:9) Motivated by Past Success — Good Indicator of Future Performance

“Is not Calno like Carchemish,

Or Hamath like Arpad,

Or Samaria like Damascus?”

Motyer: Six cities are named in pairs. In each pair the first is further south than the second and the king is reasoning: “I took that; I can take this.” . . . The list is not a historical description of the march but an impressionistic expression of the idea of inexorable advance; disaster ever nearer – Samaria next.

Oswalt: In a masterful survey of recent history, the prophet has the Assyrian list his conquests, beginning at the Euphrates and coming steadily southward until the wave crests upon Samaria just to the north. . . The Assyrians had subdued Marduk and Hadad, Baal and El. What could the god of some out-of-the-way place like Jerusalem have over those great gods? In any event, Yahweh had already been defeated at Samaria, so Jerusalem was as good as lost.

5. (:10-11) Motivated by Faulty Theology — Argument from the Greater to the Lesser

“As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, Whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?”

Van Parunak: So far is he from acknowledging that he is under the control of the God of Jerusalem, that he views his conquest as proving his superiority to that God.

Viewed Israel as just another nation trusting in their idols – and these idols were not even as physically impressive as those of other nations already conquered by Assyria

Application: Whose Purposes are you trying to accomplish in life??

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” – how am I fulfilling God’s kingdom objectives?? Right now Jesus Christ is concerned with building His church??


A. (:12) Perspective of the Sovereign Power

1. Accomplishing His Agenda in Accordance with his Timetable

“So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem,”

Van Parunak: The verb “perform” can have the special sense “cut off,” and in this sense might be understood of Assyria’s work. Hearing Assyria’s proud boasting, Isaiah exclaims, “Surely the Lord will cut off Assyria’s work in Jerusalem and Mount Zion.” That was exactly what happened, as we will see when we get to the history of Hezekiah. Rabshakeh threatened the city, but the Lord smote the army with a plague. God cut off Assyria’s work, and he did it at Jerusalem.

2. Addressing the Appropriate Punishment for the Arrogance of Assyria

“He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.’”

B. (:13-14) Perspective of the Assyrian Power

1. Over Inflated View of Assyria’s Own Power

“For he has said, ‘By the power of my hand’”

2. Over Inflated View of Assyria’s Own Wisdom

“and by my wisdom I did this, For I have understanding;”

3. Over Inflated View of Assyria’s Own Accomplishments

“And I removed the boundaries of the peoples,

And plundered their treasures,

And like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants,”

Grogan: The removal of national boundaries and the consequent mixing of peoples was one of the distinctives of Assyrian policy in the lands they conquered (cf. 2 Kings 17:6, 24).

Utley: The adjective’s (BDB 7) basic meaning, “strong,” can refer to

1. mighty/violent man, Job 24:22; 34:20; Jer. 46:15; Lam. 1:15

2. stubborn minded, Isa. 46:12

3. angels, Ps. 78:25

4. animals —

a. bulls, Isa. 10:13 may refer to a bull because a winged bull was the symbol of Assyria

(i.e., on the sides of the Ishtar gates, cf. Ps. 22:13; 68:30; Isa. 34:7)

b. horses, Jdgs. 5:22; Jer. 8:16; 47:3; 50:11

4. (:14) Over Inflated View of Assyria’s Easy Path to Conquest

“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.”

No resistance

Van Parunak: Among people who survive by hunting and gathering, collecting the eggs of nesting birds is one of the easiest ways to gather food. Even children can do it. The king of Assyria compares his conquests to such an egg-hunting expedition.

Ordinarily, a nest robber must contend with an angry mother bird. But the Assyrian is so powerful that no one even posed such opposition. The nest is “left,” abandoned. No one flaps her wings at him, or chirps angrily, as a mother bird would to an egg-robber reaching into the nest. We would say today, “It’s like taking candy from a baby.”

Application: Whose Power are you relying on day to day? God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness


Who should get the Glory?

A. Incredulity

1. Illustration of the Axe

“Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it?”

2. Illustration of the Saw

“Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it?”

Van Parunak: The Lord compares the Assyrian with four passive implements: an axe, a saw, a rod, and a staff. Each of these is controlled by someone active.

B. Impossibility

1. Illustration of the Club

“That would be like a club wielding those who lift it,”

2. Illustration of the Rod

“Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood.”

Utley: Is the power in a scepter or in the one who lifts the scepter?

Application: Who is getting the Praise and the Glory for what you do day to day?


A. The Destroyer

“Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts,”

B. The Disease – chiastic structure

A1 – Will send a Wasting Disease among his stout warriors

B1 – And under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame

C1 – And the light of Israel will become a fire

C2 – And his Holy One a flame

B2 – And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day And He will

destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body

A2 – As when a sick man wastes away

Oswalt: All the health, vigor, and glory in which Assyria exulted will be eaten away by disease or by fire. All that will be left will be a wasted, burned-out hulk.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Van Parunak: “Glory” is often used to describe the glorious wealth that people amass. The Lord will burn it up. . .

Note in particular how qualities that are so precious to God’s people pose a threat to their adversaries.

• He is their holy one, but that holiness makes him alien and threatening to unbelievers.

• He is their light, but that light burns up those who reject it.

the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field,–In 9:14, we learned about the figure of speech called a “merism,” in which two extremes are used to refer to everything that they encompass. Here is another instance of this figure. The inferno destroys both the wild land (the thick forest) and the cultivated field, and thus every sort of land.

both soul and body:–Another merism, and perhaps a step away from the metaphor and toward the literal truth. Forests and fields don’t have souls and bodies, but people do. “Soul” here means “life.” God will not only slay them, but also destroy their flesh.

* * * * * * * * * * *

C. The Devastation

“And the rest of the trees of his forest will be so small in number that a child could write them down.”

My favorite story about my daughter Jenny’s college degree in Accounting – visiting with a family from her church; chatting around the dinner table; discussing her college program in Accounting; young daughter pipes up: “Is that counting with really big numbers?”

Here you have counting with real little numbers


My favorite Dr. Seuss book: Yertle the Turtle – kept building his throne higher by stacking up poor turtles and exploiting them so that he could be king of all he could see … doesn’t take much for the Lord to cause one little turtle in the stack to burp and send proud Yertle crashing down to be buried in the mud:

But, while he was shouting, he saw with surprise

That the moon of the evening was starting to rise

Up over his head in the darkening skies.

“What’s THAT?” snorted Yertle. “Say, what IS that thing

That dares to be higher than Yertle the King?

I shall not allow it! I’ll go higher still!

I’ll build my throne higher! I can and I will!

I’ll call some more turtles. I’ll stack ’em to heaven!

I need ’bout five thousand, six hundred and seven!”

But, as Yertle, the Turtle King, lifted his hand

And started to order and give the command,

That plain little turtle below in the stack,

That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack,

Decided he’d taken enough. And he had.

And that plain little lad got a bit mad.

And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing.

He burped!

And his burp shook the throne of the king!

And Yertle the Turtle, the king of the trees,

The king of the air and the birds and the bees,

The king of a house and a cow and a mule…

Well, that was the end of the Turtle King’s rule!

For Yertle, the King of all Sala-ma-Sond,

Fell off his high throne and fell Plunk! in the pond!

And tosay the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,

Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.

And the turtles, of course… all the turtles are free

As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.