A corrupt judiciary means the destruction of the basis on which the social structure rests.
Who is the Assyrian? Where shall he be found in the last days of Israel's history? His
pride insures his doom. A picture drawn of an invasion in order that it may be averted.
This chapter should not be severed from the foregoing, for again we must hear, but for the last time, that doleful refrain of His wrath not turned away, of His hand still outstretched in smiting.
1: Woe to decreers of evil decrees,
To the scribes who inscribe heavy burdens;
2: To turn needy men from judgment aside,
And rob of their right My poor people.
Desolate widows they thus make their prey,
Nor shrink they from plundering orphans.
3: Oh, what will ye do, when I visit for this,
In the storm that comes from afar off?
To whom will ye flee in that day for help?
Where find for your wealth a safe-keeping?
4: Nothing's then left them save to bow down
Amid the mass of the captives,
Or lie 'mid the dead who have fallen.
For all this His anger is not turned away,
But His hand is ever outstretched.
This final strophe touches the fundamental evil of all, that which provoked the sternest words that ever fell from those gracious lips of our Lord. Here is the thing that He hates. Here are those, who having sat themselves down on Moses' seat, make laws solely for their own interests, binding "heavy burdens and grievous to be borne" on others which they themselves "touch not with one of their fingers." Here the very foundations are destroyed, for when lawmakers make unrighteous laws, the very fabric of society is torn to shreds. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Where can the oppressed now turn for relief? To the courts of justice? Nay, widows and orphans offer the best opportunities for the judges' rapacity.
The whole strophe reminds one forcibly of the Lord's condemnation of the governing classes in Israel in His day, scribes, pharisees, lawyers, who, when they could, "devoured widows' houses." Nor are excluded from His condemnation more modern instances of spiritual guides, "priests," as they falsely call themselves, fattening on the superstitions they foster, and reaping a revenue from such deceptions as the sale of "masses" for the delivery of the souls of the dead from purgatory! Is it loyalty, or true love to those it deludes, to be in friendship, or even neutral towards such a system, such teaching of lies? We may well grieve that both leaders and people in Christendom do not merely "let alone that woman Jezebel" of Rome (Rev. 2:20), but in the fear of being termed "bigots," or counting the votes she controls, are turning to her embraces.
Our prophecy goes on: What must be the consequence? Can such a condition of things be permitted to be permanent? Surely, "He who is higher than the highest regardeth" (Eccl. 5:8). "What will ye do then," when the inevitable storm bursts on you from afar? Where will ye find refuge from it? Where can ye deposit those accumulations of wealth in which you glory, so as to find them again when that storm has passed? Nothing shall be left them then, but, if life be spared, to bend their back with the other prisoners; or, if not, to lie amid the heaps of slain. The change of pronouns says that Jehovah is telling some assumed listeners of the fate of those directly addressed in ver. 3.
This is but a picture in Israel of that judgment that overhangs the earth today, but there is still another blow to fall from the "outstretched hand" on that devoted nation, the agent of which is to be the Assyrian, whom we have now to consider.
"The discourse (chap. 10:5 to 12:6) subdivides into three principal parts, and each of them into three subdivisions, so that three forms the underlying number"—this is taken from Nagelsbach in Lange, whose testimony is the more valuable since he did not apparently attach any significance to what he thus noted.
In this "three by three," we may well expect again to find "God fully manifested," and how can that be save in the work of redemption of sinful man, through His beloved Son? Nor shall we be disappointed. May we enjoy it together.
The first of these sub-sections may be divided and entitled thus:
1. Verses 5 to 11—The Assyrian sows the seed of his own doom.
2. Verses 12 to 15—By denying that he is merely an instrument in Jehovah's Hand.
3. Verses 16 to 19—His doom.
We will consider them briefly, and render:
5: Ho, Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger;
My fury, the staff that they wield in their hand!
Ezekiel 38, evidently Russia, and such an interpretation has much to commend it. For, in the first place, the geographical position of Russia and her allies corresponds closely in a large part of her extended domain with the ancient Assyria, as being to the north and east of Jerusalem. Then again, the Assyrian is, as far as Isaiah tells us, the last enemy destroyed (ver. 25), and with this agrees Ezekiel, who says that after this the "house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord from that day and forward." This has led us to conclude that Russia and the Assyrian are identical.
But this is by no means without its difficulties. Gog is never called the Assyrian, nor have we, as far as I am aware, any hint anywhere else in Scripture of Russia being used of God in the last days for the chastening of the Jew. She may have shared in persecuting them with all the other nations of Christendom, in the past; and that persecution may even have been more acute in Russia than elsewhere, but that is not what we have here in Isaiah. It is an oppressor specifically used and sent of God to chastise His people when in their own land, while in Ezekiel, Jehovah is not only not sending, but from the very beginning of his "evil" thought of invasion of the land, is "against" him, and that could never be said while the instrument was being sent and used. Gog, then, is not the Assyrian!
Again, in Ezekiel the incursion occurs after the return of all the people, and when they are living in apparent security; in a "land of unwalled villages," as it is called in chapter 38. In Isaiah, on the other hand, that final return of Israel to their land does not take place till after the incursion of the Assyrian (see chap. 11). This would seem to be quite enough to make us pause before identifying them. The world-power of Isaiah's day stands for the world-power of any day, and particularly of the last days, even though it be not then literally Assyria, but "the Beast from the sea" (Rev. 13), that is, the revived Roman Empire, which then holds the political place of Assyria.
This is not without the clearest justification from Scripture itself, for in 2 Kings 23:29 we read:
"In his (Josiah's) days Pharaoh-nechoh, king of Egypt, went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates."
But this "king of Assyria" was really the king of Babylon, who was in the same position politically—that is, at the head of the then World-empire—as was Assyria in the earlier day, for of the same campaign of Egypt, which began so favorably for Pharaoh by the defeat and death of Josiah, but ended disastrously by his own defeat at Carchemish, Jeremiah records,
"The word of the Lord came against Egypt, against the army of Pharaoh-necho, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates in Carchemish, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon smote" (Jer. 46:2).
That is, the same man who is here called "king of Babylon" was also termed "king of Assyria."
Again, the empire that followed the Babylonian was the Persian, yet the title "king of Assyria" is in Ezra 6:22 attached to Darius, king of Persia:
"For the Lord . . . had turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them."
If, then, the title of Assyria is projected to the two following World-empires, of quite different geographical boundaries, it follows that we are compelled to find it also attached to the fourth or last imperial power, the Roman. So it is in the "Beast from the sea" that we have the "Assyrian" of the last days. The prophet naturally speaks (ever under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) in a way that his readers understand: nor does he therefore say anything of a western empire that had no existence at all at the time. He looks out upon the world, sees it with one dominant power, and takes its head as representing the World-ruler of the last days to which his prophecy extends. Nor is it of vital importance whether it be the Babylonian, Assyrian or Roman; there is one—the real "prince of this world"—who is behind each and all these human pieces on the chessboard of time, and links them all together, even from the day of Nimrod, who founded both Babel and Asshur, and whose spirit pervades these World-powers to the very end. As Nimrod (meaning "rebel") is behind Babel and Asshur (Gen. 10:10, 11), so that great Rebel is ever behind the World-power of the day.
Thus it seems to me to be beyond all question that the "Assyrian" of Isaiah's day must be found in the "Beast from the sea" of the day of the Apocalypse. This is further confirmed by this clear truth that when the Lord is revealed for the deliverance of the remnant of His people, He finds the Assyrian oppressing them in the Old Testament (Zech. 14:1), and the Beast in the New (Rev. 19:20); that is, the Assyrian of the Old Testament is "the Beast" of the New.
In Isaiah's day the Assyrian received a commission from Jehovah to inflict His judgments. Though he is an utterly ungodly man, a good representative of the proud "prince of this world," Jehovah makes use of him, for there is no creature who can escape being made to serve Him, in one way or another, either as a vessel to honor or to dishonor (2 Tim. 2:20).
But it is a dangerous commission, for he who inflicts judgment must be very careful as to his own condition: he who casts the "first stone" must be himself "without sin" (John 8:7): he who sees the mote in his brother's eye, must have his own examined first, to be sure that there is no beam in it (Matt. 7:3): those Who "put away the wicked person from among" themselves, must first humble themselves, and "purge out" the leaven of being "puffed up" (1 Cor. 5:13, 7, 2). It is the same principle all through, as in the simple word: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." The time shall come, when His people, Israel, being all righteous, shall "execute vengeance upon the Gentiles, and punishment upon the peoples; bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron," but that will be when it can be added of that whole nation, "This honor have all His saints" (Ps. 149:9).
The Assyrian is quite unconscious of being only an instrument of Jehovah. He thinks he is simply carrying out his own plans for his own glory. He will be Lord of lords and King of kings. It is the lust for world dominion that has constantly been evidenced by world-conquerors, although no attempt has as yet been successful. But one day, out of the tossing waters of some such world-conflict as the last, will arise the Beast who shall in this political position (I more than question if it corresponds geographically at all) occupy the place of Assyria of the prophet's day.
Note that the Assyrian of old does not merely contend that the deities of Assyria are superior to those of Calno or Carchemish, but that he himself has proved his personal superiority over them all: "As I have done to Samaria and her idol-deities, shall I not do to Jerusalem?" (ver. 10). In a word, he, too, "exalts himself above all that is called God" (2 Thess. 2:4). In that trinity of evil of the last days—Dragon, Beast, False Prophet—that same family trait is in all three, and the spirit who at the first would exalt his "throne above the stars of God, and be like the Most High," is the Dragon controlling the other two.
The path from Calno to Jerusalem, in more senses than one, is ever traveled by all the aspirants to World-empire: a series of victories leads the conqueror to esteem himself invincible and then—his downfall! Sooner or later every fallen man breaks down under the strain of success.
Second section: The Assyrian denies being a mere instrument of Jehovah, or of being dependent on any other man, or men; and this disproves absolutely any identity with the "little horn" of Daniel 8, instead of the "little horn" of chapter 7. 2
12: And it shall be when Adonai hath finished
The whole of His work, that He brings upon Zion—
Hath punished Jerusalem to its full limit,
Then will I turn on the fruit of the stout heart
Of the king of Assyria, the blows of My rod;
So shall the pride of his high looks be lowered.
Rom. 11:2), and His mercies shall return to them. Here we have that return. Jerusalem shall "receive of the Lord's Hand" the full measure of her guilt, but she shall not be given over unto death (Ps. 118:18). Just as it seems to be all over with her forever, her Lord shall interpose, the days of unparalleled tribulation be stopped, and as He looks at the instrument that He has been using for her chastening, He alters the direction of the strokes of His rod, and the fruit of the pride (i.e., what the proud heart of the Assyrian produces) becomes the object of the blows. For thus that heart speaks: "I, even I have done it! My wisdom has swept the earth, and none has had a word to say, even as to their own dwelling. I have shuffled the nations as I chose: if they had anything of value, I made it mine. There is no one to whom I give account, and no one can any more withstand me than a little bird can defend its nest from the depredating schoolboy— it dare neither strike with wing, nor beak, nor even protest with one feeble chirp."
Then Jehovah in verse 15 answers in keen irony: "Here is an axe, boasting that it has cut down the tree, not the man who wields it! Here is a saw boasting that it has done the work by its own clever swinging to and fro! One would suppose to listen to this boaster that it is the rod that swings the man, not the reverse or that it is the wooden staff that lifts up something that is not wood." A staff of wood surely needs something that is not mere wood to move it, so if a staff does move, it is evidence of something "not wood," far higher than wood, behind it. So if this boastful Assyrian ever moves, and is of any effect, it is evidence of a power as much higher than himself behind him as a man is higher than wood.
Third section: the doom of the Assyrian.
Rom. 11:26) amid the apostate mass of the Jews:
20: Then, in that day, shall Israel's remnant, In that very day, not a day of twenty-four hours, but the time of which it is said: "Alas, for that day is great" (Jer. 30:7), the last three and one-half years of Daniel's seventy weeks, in that day, God shall eventually interpose in judgment on the Assyrian. Then the remnant of Israel, those who have not perished in terrible persecutions, shall change their confidence completely. The king of Assyria in whom Ahaz trusted, carried the ten tribes into captivity, over-ran Judea, besieged Jerusalem, and thus provided pictures of the day still future, in which, in the first half of that last week of Daniel's prophecy the whole of the returned nation puts its trust in the "Prince," the Emperor of the World-empire, with whom they make an alliance for seven years (Daniel 9:27). The protection of this "Prince" with all the military resources of the world at his back, naturally gives them a perfect sense of security, under which sacrifice and offering are renewed. But in the midst of the week, the scene suddenly changes. The New Testament gives us the great cause of the change. Satan, who even up to that time has had full access to heaven, is cast out to the earth; then he causes all recognition of the true God to be stopped, and in the place of the morning and evening sacrifice, an image of the "Prince" is set up, "standing where it ought not" (Mark 13:14). That changes everything. A Jewish remnant, hitherto not distinguished in any way from the mass of the nation, is forced into prominence by the fires of persecution, and that feeble remnant is henceforth in Jehovah's eyes The Nation. On whom, then, can this remnant lean? On the Holy One of Israel, Jehovah, and that with no feigned piety, no Pharisaic pretension, but in such sincere self-judgment, such genuine penitence, as shall in very truth tell of a divine work of grace in that hitherto cast-away Israel.
And those who of Jacob's house have escaped,
Will never again put trust in their smiter,
But (in deed and) in truth shall lean on their Lord,
Who is, of Israel, ever the Holy.
21: The remnant returns!—the remnant of Jacob—
To God, the most Mighty One, shall it return!
22: For Israel's people though they're exceeding
In numbers the sand lying by the sea-shore,
Yet but a remnant alone shall return to Me;
For the consumption decreed, and far back determined,
In righteousness flows to the end.
23: Yea, for Jehovah Adonai Tzebaoth
Long hath decreed a finishing stroke
To be inflicted on all of the land.
We must ever remember that Isaiah's children, as seen in chapter 8, were for signs, their names telling a story of mingled sorrow and joy. Shear-Jashub's name spoke of the apostasy of the mass of the people, since it makes mention of but a "remnant of them that shall return." But it also foretells the conversion of that remnant in their discovery in that day of the "Son given" in Jesus, and in Him, "the Mighty God." Thus shall they return to the Mighty God, discerning God in Christ, and own the true divinity of their Messiah. This is very refreshing.
For even though the children of Israel were as numerous as the seaside sands, a remnant only shall be saved, as our Apostle Paul quotes in Romans 9:27. That remnant is the result of the intervention of God in electing grace—it is His work. As regards the mass, Jehovah has decreed such a consumption as shall flow on in righteousness, like a tidal wave; carrying righteousness, as it were, upon its crest, the very judgments teaching righteousness to the inhabitants of the earth.
The last words of verse 22 are further emphasized in the next verse. Such a destruction has been surely determined by the Lord God of Hosts as shall embrace the whole land of Palestine in the first place, and then the whole prophetic earth. But our own apostle, Paul, quotes this, not from the Hebrew text, but from the Septuagint, which reads: "He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because a short work will the Lord make in all the world." Here there is no question as to the sphere of the "short work in righteousness." It is the whole world, a word being used that makes it apply to the Roman Empire. Here a work is being done that God brings to a sudden stop by "righteousness." We shall come across this again in chapter 65 and will reserve comment.
For at this crisis those days are cut short by the appearing of the Lord Jesus in great power and glory. But what power does the Lord find when He cuts His work short? The literal "Assyrian?" Not at all, but "the Beast from the sea," in whom we recognize the "Prince" of Dan. 9:26, the emperor of the then-revived Roman Empire, who has a "False Prophet" for his coadjutor.
24: Thus saith Adonai Jehovah Tzebaoth, With tenderness Jehovah speaks to the afflicted and almost exterminated remnant! The very mention of their being in Zion, that stronghold of Jerusalem, is full of promise, for Hebrews 12:22 has made us acquainted with the deep, spiritual significance of that Mount, as in contrast with the Mount of law, Sinai. So the very fact of His saying, "Fear not, O My people, dwelling in Zion," is full of comfort. Let Asshur smite, let him treat you as did Egypt your fathers in the days of old, the same Jehovah is over you now as then. Fear not, for He will surely interpose for your relief. We, too are dwelling in the grace of Zion (Romans 5:2). It is the place for joy, as Rev. 14:1 proves.
Fear not, O My people now dwelling in Zion,
Fear not the Assyrian though he may smite,
Swinging his rod as once did (proud) Egypt.
25: For yet but a little, a little indeed,
And My indignation shall come to its end—
My wrath shall be finished, in their destruction.
26: For Jehovah Tzebaoth swings the whip over him,
As once He smote Midian at the rock of the raven. 6
His staff He outstretches over the sea,
Lifting it up as aforetime in Egypt.
27: Then shall his burden fall from thy shoulder,
Then shall his yoke pass off from thy neck,
Smashed shall the yoke be by the anointing.
Yes, in a very little while, His indignation with the Jews shall come to its end in the destruction of the one He has been using for their chastening. How perfect is the harmony of the prophetic Word. Daniel writes the words of Gabriel: "He shall make desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined, be poured upon the desolate" (chap. 9:27), that is, there is a limit to this decreed outpouring. So again in chap. 11:36. The wilful king, the true Antichrist heading the apostate mass of Jews, shall prosper "till the indignation be accomplished, for that that is determined shall be done." With one accordant voice all prophecy assures that a long period of distress has been decreed for the Jew, but has an end; that end comes with the destruction of their persecutor, or persecutors. In this chapter, he is the "Assyrian"; in Daniel 11 he is "the king who does according to his will"; nor are these the same personages at all, but represent, respectively, the Beasts from the sea and land, united in opposition to the remnant. Proofs will be found in later references to these personages.
In verses 28 to 34 we have the path of a conqueror told out grandly. As Delitzsch writes: "Aesthetically considered, the description is one of the grandest, most magnificent, that human Poetry has ever produced." But strictly speaking, it has never been fulfilled; nor is it necessary, for its purpose, that it ever should be, in these graphic details. Let us turn back to the moment when it was given. Assyria threatens invasion, and the Spirit of God would bring that danger graphically home to His people. How can that be better done than by an ideal description of a conqueror's march from that quarter whence the Assyrian would naturally come? It is not intended to give such minute details of future history as are here—that would be quite beside the mark. The one purpose, as in all pictorial parabolic teaching, is to bring home one main point; and here it is the defeat of Israel's enemy at the summit of his success. Had it been the divine intent to foretell the details, then the prophecy would either have fitted only one event, had but one fulfilment, or every detail would have to be repeated again and again, even to the cries. But in this ideal way, the prophecy may find a near fulfilment in Sennacherib, but a far-off, final one even still in the future; for admittedly Jehovah's anger did not forever and finally turn away from the nation of the Jews at the destruction of Sennacherib.
Being well assured that this prophet of fire would never give a cool, tame description of this rush of the Assyrian on his victim, I have made the following attempt to reproduce the vivid lines—the terrified shouts—of the original:
28: To Aiath he's come! Through Migron he passes! The invader first puts his foot on Judah's land at Aiath, and was then about fifteen miles north of Jerusalem, from which he was separated by a range of high hills. But these prove no obstacle, for soon we hear the cry of terror: "He's through the pass!"—that pass that saw the victory of Jonathan and his armour-bearer (1 Sam. 14), two men defeating the entire army of the Philistines, and which surely might have been held indefinitely by a determined band of men. The loss of the pass is noted with a cry of despair, and the towns that lie at the conqueror's mercy have the sympathy of the speaker. We last see him standing on one of the hills north of Jerusalem, looking at the beautiful city and shaking his fist at it. But he has to do with One who is not as the deities of Calno and Carchemish, and woe to any who defy Him! All the lofty coronals go; branches fall; down crash the lofty trunks, the whole forest is levelled, and the enemy, so like to Lebanon in his pride, falls by One who is majestic indeed, and there is no need to specify further who that must be.
Leaves baggage behind him at Michmash!
29: They're through the Pass!
They're pitching their tents at Geba!
Ramah is quivering! Gibeah of Saul flees!
30: Scream! Scream! O daughter of Gallim!
O hark, Laishah!
31: Madmenah's in flight!
The dwellers in Gebim do gather their goods!
32: He halts for the day at Nob:
Shakes fist at the mount of the daughter of Zion;
The hill of Jerusalem!
33: But look! See! Adonai Jehovah Tzebaoth
Lops off the boughs with a terrible force:
Cuts down the high ones!
Humbles the lofty!
34: Fells He the shrubs of the forest with iron!
And Lebanon falls by One mighty indeed!
1 Literal rendering of the Hebrew.
2 In the study of prophetic truth we must remember that it is like knitting, each stich, however insignificant it may appear, is important, for on all sides there are others hanging upon it. Thus with regard to the Assyrian and where he is to be found in the closing days of this age, many esteemed interpreters identify him with the King of the North, found in Daniel's closing prophecy. This I had also naturally accepted, but have since been compelled to abandon, for from every point of view, I have found it to be quite untenable. The characteristic of the Assyrian is independence of all help, and he knows well that none can deny that claim: "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent: I have removed the bounds of the people and have robbed their treasures, I have put down the inhabitants as a valiant man," etc. That is not the language of one who owes, and knows that he owes, to another whatever power he has. On the other hand it fits perfectly the King of the North, whose "power shall be mighty, but not by his own power" (Dan. 8:24). Again, instead of honoring the God of his fathers, he shall "honor the god of munitions" (Dan. 11:38), that is, he acknowledges his dependence on another. He is easily found in the New Testament, bearing precisely the same mark of dependence: "He (the second Beast, from the land) exerciseth all the power of the first Beast" (Rev. 13:12). Independence marks the one, dependence the other—they cannot be the same.
But as evidencing to what absurdities the mistake may lead the most able of commentators, Mr. Wm. Kelly, comments on Dan. 8 thus: "The Assyrian understands dark sentences. He will take the place of a great teacher, which will naturally have much influence over the Jewish mind, for they have always been a people given to research, and intellectual speculations of all kinds." One can only ask, where is there in all Scripture, a hint of that mighty fighter, the Assyrian, being a great teacher! Think of that external foe of the remnant having a great influence over his enemies by teaching them dark sentences! Was it by giving them such instruction that he overcame Calno and Carchemish and all the others? But these words are perfectly applicable to the King of the North of Dan. 8: a false king, a false priest, a false prophet—the veritable Antichrist who is, like Balaam, in league with the occult. The fullest expression of violence cannot be identified with the fullest expression of corruption—the Assyrian with the King of the North.
3 The Hebrew word "abbir" may mean either "a valiant one," as Judges 5:22, or "bull," as Ps. 50:13. As the speaker is the Assyrian, and as the emblem of Assyrian royalty was the bull, I have adopted the latter, although probably it is one of Isaiah's puns.4 I have tried to give a correspondence to "Isaiah's masterly painting in tones. The whole passage is so expressed that we can hear the crackling, and sputtering and hissing of the fire, as it seizes upon everything within its reach" (Delitzsch). The Hebrew reads: "v'tachat, k'bohdu yehqad yeqoad keqohd"—note the crackling sounds in the last three words.
5 Lit. "both soul and flesh," utterly.
6 Oreb meaning "raven."