Wednesday

14 July 2010

"Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger - the club in their hands is my fury!" (v.5)

Background

The story has now moved on. In the readings for the last couple of days Judah was being threatened by an alliance of Israel and Syria, but another, stronger power, and an even greater threat to their safety was in the background... Assyria.

When Tiglath-Pileser III ascended to the throne in 745 BC, Assyria started to become a great power in the region and threatened to overwhelm both Israel and Judah. We have already seen that the first chapter of Isaiah comes from a time when Ahaz, king of Judah, became a vassal of Assyria. This was just one in a series of manoeuvres in which both the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah attempted to protect themselves from this new menace. 2 Kings 17 tells the story of Israel's failed attempt to rebel against Assyria, which resulted in the invasion of Israel with many of its people being taken off into exile.

With the kingdom of Israel already invaded and the kingdom of Judah feeling increasingly threatened by Assyria, the obvious questions were: Has God deserted us? Has God forgotten God's people and abandoned them to this great (earthly) power?

Isaiah gives an extraordinary answer. The rise of Assyria is not a sign that God has abandoned God's people, but rather that God is greater than the people of Judah could possibly have imagined; for Assyria is actually an instrument of God's justice. In a complete reversal of what might be expected, Isaiah says that Assyria has been sent by God to defeat "a godless nation" (Isaiah 10:6) - and that godless nation is Israel.

In other words, it is not that God has abandoned God's people, but rather that they have abandoned God. They have not pursued justice and have worshipped idols rather than the one true god.

To Ponder

The people of Israel assumed that God was always on their side. In what ways do people make a similar assumption today?

This passage assumes that God uses one nation to humble another. How do you feel about this image of God's justice? To what extent would we understand things differently today?

Bible notes author: Revd Judith Rossall

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