Assyria, the Rod of God's Anger (Isaiah 10:5-34) March 23
Again, there is indication that the prophecy is a continuation of the one begun in chapter 7 to Ahaz. Remember that Isaiah was accompanied by his son Shear-Jashub, meaning "Remnant Shall Return." And here we find these very words in 10:21. Similarly, verse 6 contains the phrase "to seize the spoil, to take the prey," which is reminiscent of the name of Isaiah's second son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz" ("Quick to the Plunder, Swift to the Spoil"), introduced in chapter 8.
Assyria is used by God to punish Israel. Verse 11 states the Assyrian leader's intention to attack and plunder Jerusalem as well as Samaria. As mentioned in the comments on our previous reading, the Assyrians under the later king Sennacherib invaded Judah around 20 years after the fall of Samaria. We will soon go through this episode in detail when we come to it in our regular reading. Sennacherib is successful in destroying and plundering a major portion of Judah. He actually besieges Jerusalem, but in the end God miraculously devastates his army. Isaiah 10 certainly appears to apply to these events.
But there is a broader picture here we should also consider. This chapter seems to flow right into the next one, Isaiah 11, which clearly concerns the end-time return of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom over all nations. Indeed, as already explained, Isaiah 7-12 seems to be one long, related section of prophecy. Throughout it, we find a number of messianic references, building to a crescendo in the clearly millennial prophecies at the end. All of this provides a basis for looking on much of the prophetic material in these chapters as dual in interpretation—applying to the events of Isaiah's day, but as a forerunner of even greater events that will transpire in the end time. Thus, while God speaks in Isaiah 10 of bringing Assyria against Israel and Judah, he may well have been referring both to the ancient invasions that took place in Isaiah's time and to another Assyrian invasion of the end time. Indeed, the next chapter shows Israel returning from Assyrian captivity at Christ's second coming (11:11), so this seems rather likely.
We might ask, then, who are the Assyrians today? The ancient Israelites who were taken into Assyrian captivity eventually migrated into northwest Europe (see our booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy to learn more). Likewise, the Assyrians, after their empire fell in 612 B.C., migrated into Europe behind them. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder located the Assyrians north of the Black Sea in his day, the first century A.D. (Natural History, Book 4, sec. 12). A few hundred years later, Jerome, one of the post-Nicene Catholic fathers, applied Psalm 83:8 to the Germanic tribes invading western Europe along the Rhine: "For Assur [the Assyrian] also is joined with them" (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Letter 123, sec. 16). And of the Germanic peoples, Smith's Classical Dictionary states: "There can be no doubt that they…migrated into Europe from the Caucasus and the countries around the Black and Caspian seas" ("Germania," p. 361). Indeed, a significant portion of the Germanic people of Central Europe today appear to be descended from the Assyrians of old. (A more detailed study paper on this subject is currently in the works, though it will not be available for some time.)
To bring divine punishment on the Israelites from a foreign power in Isaiah's day, Assyria was the logical choice. Ancient Assyria, as we've seen, was the preeminent empire of the day. It was also one of the most warlike and imperialistic nations in history. "Its imperialistic ethic was embodied in the Middle Assyrian coronation ritual, in which the officiating priest solemnly charged the king: 'Expand your land!'" ("Assyria," The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993, p. 63). And lest we think such national motivation is just ancient history, we should remember Adolf Hitler's more recent cries for lebensraum ("living space"). Of course, many nations have engaged in imperialism and territorial expansion in modern times. Nevertheless, it is significant that this thread is still found in the modern history of the Assyrian people along with other Europeans. In fact, in the years ahead, a resurgence of imperialism is prophesied to grip the European continent.
Various biblical prophecies show that a European-centered revival of the Roman Empire—called "the Beast" and Babylon—will be the dominant power in the world just prior to the return of Jesus Christ (see Daniel 2, 7, 11; Revelation 13, 17-18). From Isaiah 10 and other prophecies that seem to indicate the Assyrian ruler and people as important players on the end-time scene and as the principal agents of wrath against Israel, it appears that these Central European people will constitute the leading force in the coming power bloc—as was the case in a number of past revivals of the Roman "Beast" system. Indeed, it makes even more sense when we realize that they make up around one third of the population of Europe—clearly a dominating force. Yet there certainly will be other national groups making up the coming European empire as well.
Europe's subjugation of the Israelite nations of the end time will be fierce—as a look back at ancient times reveals. Panels from Assyrian archaeological sites depict graphic scenes of the gruesome savagery with which these ancient conquerors treated their subjugated peoples. Even so, God indicates here in Isaiah 10 and in other prophecies, such as Nahum, that the Assyrians of the end time will go overboard in their harsh treatment of the modern Israelites. Indeed, this must be the case since the time of trouble yet to come on the peoples of Israel will be worse than anything that has ever happened before (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21).
Failing to see themselves as tools in God's hands, His rod of punishment on Israel, the Assyrians arrogantly view their subjugation of Israel as a mere conquest of their own doing in their struggle to take over the world (Isaiah 10:5, 7, 15)—and so it will also be in the end time. The same basic attitude is shown in Habakkuk 1 to be shared by the Babylonian Chaldeans. And, as we will see when we later consider a prophecy of Babylon in Isaiah 13, the Babylonian Chaldeans will make up another significant portion of the latter-day European alliance.
But in considering the problems of the Assyrians and Babylonians, let us not lose the focus that God is severely displeased here with His own people Israel, calling them "an ungodly nation…the people of My wrath" (10:6). Despite the blessings He has showered on them, they flagrantly sin and rebel against Him. That is why God sends these other peoples to deal with them. Afterward, God will punish the Assyrians and Babylonians as well for their arrogance and cruelty—and Israel will at last go free. (Later in Isaiah, we will see Assyria and Israel dwelling happily with one another under the rule of Jesus Christ, 19:24-25.)
The slaughter of Midian in Isaiah 10:26 is a reference to the defeat of the Midianites by Gideon and Israel's release from Midianite oppression (Judges 7:25). The same story was alluded to in Isaiah 9:4. We also see mention of the Red Sea crossing and Israel's release from Egyptian oppression. These are used as types of the release from Assyrian oppression (10:27).
Verses 28-32 are describing a journey from Aiath, or Ai, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, to Nob, which overlooks Jerusalem. Indeed, each city listed is one step closer to the Jewish capital. This describes the terror of the inhabitants of those areas as the Assyrian forces inexorably march on Jerusalem. Though disputed, this could be the route Sennacherib's invasion would take. (We do know that he plundered a large part of Judah.) But it could also describe the final advance of a future Assyrian commander on Jerusalem from the gathering place at Megiddo in the north of Israel (compare Revelation 16:14-16; 19:19; Zechariah 14:12). In either case, God will destroy the enemy (Isaiah 10:33-34).