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Arrogant Assyria Also Judged


Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger—

the club in their hands is my fury!

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The Pride of the King of Assyria; Sennacherib's Pride Rebuked; Destruction of the King of Assyria. (b. c. 740.)

5 O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.   6 I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.   7 Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.   8 For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings?   9 Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus?   10 As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria;   11 Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?   12 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.   13 For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man:   14 And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.   15 Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.   16 Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.   17 And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day;   18 And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.   19 And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

The destruction of the kingdom of Israel by Shalmaneser king of Assyria was foretold in the foregoing chapter, and it had its accomplishment in the sixth year of Hezekiah, 2 Kings xviii. 10. It was total and final, head and tail were all cut off. Now the correction of the kingdom of Judah by Sennacherib king of Assyria is foretold in this chapter; and this prediction was fulfilled in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, when that potent prince, encouraged by the successes of his predecessor against the ten tribes, came up against all the fenced cities of Judah and took them, and laid siege to Jerusalem (2 Kings xviii. 13, 17), in consequence of which we may well suppose Hezekiah and his kingdom were greatly alarmed, though there was a good work of reformation lately begun among them: but it ended well, in the confusion of the Assyrians and the great encouragement of Hezekiah and his people in their return to God. Now let us see here,

I. How God, in his sovereignty, deputed the king of Assyria to be his servant, and made use of him as a mere tool to serve his own purposes with (v. 5, 6): "O Assyrian! know this, that thou art the rod of my anger; and I will send thee to be a scourge to the people of my wrath." Observe here, 1. How bad the character of the Jews was, though they appeared very good. They were a hypocritical nation, that made a profession of religion, and at this time particularly of reformation, but were not truly religious, not truly reformed, not so good as they pretended to be now that Hezekiah had brought goodness into fashion. When rulers are pious, and so religion is in reputation, it is common for nations to be hypocritical. They are a profane nation; so some read it. Hezekiah had in a great measure cured them of their idolatry, and now they ran into profaneness; nay, hypocrisy is profaneness: none profane the name of God so much as those who are called by that name and call upon it, and yet live in sin. Being a profane hypocritical nation, they are the people of God's wrath; they lie under his wrath, and are likely to be consumed by it. Note, Hypocritical nations are the people of God's wrath: nothing is more offensive to God than dissimulation in religion. See what a change sin made: those that had been God's chosen and hallowed people, above all people, had now become the people of his wrath. See Amos iii. 2. 2. How mean the character of the Assyrian was, though he appeared very great. He was but the rod of God's anger, an instrument God was pleased to make use of for the chastening of his people, that, being thus chastened of the Lord, they might not be condemned with the world. Note, The tyrants of the world are but the tools of Providence. Men are God's hand, his sword sometimes, to kill and slay (Ps. xvii. 13, 14), at other times his rod to correct. The staff in their hand, wherewith they smite his people, is his indignation; it is his wrath that puts the staff into their hand and enables them to deal blows at pleasure among such as thought themselves a match for them. Sometimes God makes an idolatrous nation, that serves him not at all, a scourge to a hypocritical nation, that serves him not in sincerity and truth. The Assyrian is called the rod of God's anger because he is employed by him. (1.) From him his power is derived: I will send him; I will give him a charge. Note, All the power that wicked men have, though they often use it against God, they always receive from him. Pilate could have no power against Christ unless it were given him from above, John xix. 11. (2.) By him the exercise of that power is directed. The Assyrian is to take the spoil and to take the prey, not to shed any blood. We read not of any slain, but he is to plunder the country, rifle the houses, drive away the cattle, strip the people of all their wealth and ornaments, and tread them down like the mire of the streets. When God's professing people wallow in the mire of sin it is just with God to suffer their enemies to tread upon them like mire. But why must the Assyrian prevail thus against them? Not that they might be ruined, but that they might be thoroughly reformed.

II. See how the king of Assyria, in his pride, magnified himself as his own master, and pretended to be absolute and above all control, to act purely according to his own will and for his own honour. God ordained him for judgment, even the mighty God established him for correction (Hab. i. 12), to be an instrument of bringing his people to repentance, howbeit he means not so, nor does his heart think so, v. 7.

1. He does not think that he is either God's servant or Israel's friend, either that he can do no more than God will let him or that he shall do no more than God will make to work for the good of his people. God designs to correct his people for, and so to cure them of, their hypocrisy, and bring them nearer to himself; but was that Sennacherib's design? No, it was the furthest thing from his thoughts—he means not so. Note, (1.) The wise God often makes even the sinful passions and projects of men subservient to his own great and holy purposes. (2.) When God makes use of men as instruments in his hand to do his work it is very common for him to mean one thing and them to mean another, nay, for them to mean quite the contrary to what he intends. What Joseph's brethren designed for hurt God overruled for good, Gen. l. 20. See Mic. iv. 11, 12. Men have their ends and God has his, but we are sure the counsel of the Lord shall stand. But what is it the proud Assyrian aims at? The heart of kings is unsearchable, but God knew what was in his heart.

2. He designs nothing but to destroy and to cut off nations not a few, and to make himself master of them. [1.] He designs to gratify his own cruelty; nothing will serve but to destroy and cut off. He hopes to regale himself with blood and slaughter; that of particular persons will not suffice, he must cut off nations. It is below him to deal by retail; he traffics in murders by wholesale. Nations, and those not a few, must have but one neck, which he will have the pleasure of cutting off. [2.] He designs to gratify his own covetousness and ambition, to set up for a universal monarch, and to gather unto him all nations, Hab. ii. 5. An insatiable desire of wealth and dominion is that which carries him on in this undertaking.

3. The prophet here brings him in vaunting, and hectoring; and by his general's letter to Hezekiah, written in his name, vainglory and arrogance seem to have entered very far into the spirit and genius of the man. His haughtiness and presumption are here described very largely, and his very language copied out, partly to represent him as ridiculous and partly to assure the people of God that he would be brought down; for that maxim generally holds true, that pride goes before destruction. It also intimates that God takes notice, and keeps an account, of all men's proud and haughty words, with which they set heaven and earth at defiance. Those that speak great swelling words of vanity shall hear of them again.

(1.) He boasts of the great things he had done to other nations. [1.] He had made their kings his courtiers (v. 8): "My princes are altogether kings. Those that are now my princes are such as have been kings." Or he means that he had raised his throng to such a degree that his servants, and those that were in command under him, were as great, and lived in as much pomp, as the kings of other countries. Or those that were absolute princes in their own dominions held their crowns under him, and did him homage. This was a vainglorious boast; but how great is our God whom we serve, who is indeed King of kings, and whose subjects are made to him kings! Rev. i. 6. [2.] He had made himself master of their cities. He names several (v. 9) that were all alike reduced by him. Calno soon yielded as Carchemish did, Hamath could not hold out any more than Arpad, and Samaria had become his as well as Damascus. To support his boasts he is obliged to bring the victories of his predecessor into the account; for it was he that conquered Samaria, not Sennacherib. [3.] He had been too hard for their idols, their tutelar gods, had found out the kingdoms of the idols and found out ways to make them his own, v. 10. Their kingdoms took denomination from the idols they worshipped; the Moabites are called the people of Chemosh (Jer. xlviii. 46), because they imagined their gods were their patrons and protectors; and therefore Sennacherib vainly imagined that every conquest of a kingdom was the conquest of a god. [4.] He had enlarged his own dominions, and removed the bounds of the people (v. 13), enclosing many large territories within the limits of his own kingdom and shifting a great way further the ancient land-marks which his fathers had set; he could not bear to be hemmed in so closely, but must have more room to thrive. By his removing the border of the people Mr. White understands his arbitrarily transplanting colonies from place to place, which was the constant practice of the Assyrians in all their conquests; and this is a probable interpretation. [5.] He had enriched himself with their wealth, and brought it into his own exchequer: I have robbed their treasures. In this he said truly, Great conquerors are often no better than great robbers. [6.] He had mastered all the opposition he met with: "I have put down the inhabitants as a valiant man. Those that sat high, and thought they say firmly, I have humbled and made to come down."

(2.) He boasts of the manner in which he had done them. [1.] That he had done all this by his own policy and power (v. 13): "By the strength of my hand, for I am valiant; and by my wisdom, for I am prudent;" not by the permission of Providence and the blessing of God. He knows not that it is God that makes him what he is, and puts the staff into his hand, but sacrifices to his own net, Hab. i. 16. "This wealth is all gotten by my might and the power of my hand," Deut. viii. 17. Downright atheism and profaneness, as well as pride and vanity, are at the bottom of men's attributing their prosperity and success thus to themselves and their own conduct, and raising their own character upon it. [2.] That he had done all this with a great deal of ease, and had made but a sport and diversion of it, as if he had been taking birds' nests (v. 14): my hand has found as a nest the riches of the people; and when he had found them there was no more difficulty in taking them than in rifling a nest, nor any more reluctance or regret within his own breast in destroying families and cities than in destroying crows'-nests; killing children was no more to him than killing birds. "As one gathers the eggs that are left in the nest by the dam, so easily have I gathered all the earth." Like Alexander, he thought he had conquered the world; and whatever prey he seized there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped, as birds do when their nests are rifled. They durst not make any opposition, no, nor any complaint; such awe did they stand in of this mighty conqueror. They were so weak that they knew it was to no purpose to resist, and he was so arbitrary that they knew it was to no purpose to complain. Strange that ever men who were made to do good should take a pride and a pleasure in doing wrong, and doing mischief to all about them without control, and should reckon that their glory which is their shame! But their day will come to fall who thus make themselves the terror of thy mighty, and much more of the feeble, in the land of the living.

(3.) He threatens what he will do to Jerusalem, which he was now about to lay siege to, v. 10, 11. He would master Jerusalem and her idols, as he had subdued other places and their idols, particularly Samaria. [1.] He blasphemously calls the God of Israel an idol, and sets him on a level with the false gods of other nations, as if none were the true God but Mithras, the sun, whom he worshipped. See how ignorant he was, and then we shall the less wonder that he was so proud. [2.] He prefers the graven images of other countries before those of Jerusalem and Samaria, when he might have known that the worshippers of the God of Israel were expressly forbidden to make any graven images, and if any did it must be by stealth, and therefore they could not be so rich and pompous as those of other nations. If he means the ark and the mercy-seat, he speaks like himself, very foolishly, and as one that judged by the sight of the eye, and might therefore be easily deceived in matters of spiritual concern. Those who make external pomp and splendour a mark of the true church go by the same rule. [3.] Because he had conquered Samaria, he concluded Jerusalem would fall of course: "Shall not I do so to Jerusalem? can I not as easily, and may I not as justly?" But it did not follow; for Jerusalem adhered to her God, whereas Samaria had forsaken him.

III. See how God, in his justice, rebukes his pride and reads his doom. We have heard what the great king, the king of Assyria, says, and how big he talks. Let us now hear what the great God has to say by his servant the prophet, and we shall find that, wherein he deals proudly, God is above him.

1. He shows the vanity of his insolent and audacious boasts (v. 15): Shall the axe boast itself against him that hews therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that draws it? So absurd are the boasts of this proud man. "O what a dust do I make!" said the fly upon the cart-wheel in the fable. "What destruction do I make among the trees!" says the axe. Two ways the axe may be said to boast itself against him that hews with it:—(1.) By way of resistance and opposition. Sennacherib blasphemed God, insulted him, threatened to serve him as he had served the gods of the nations; now this was as if the axe should fly in the face of him that hews with it. The tool striving with the workman is no less absurd than the clay striving with the potter; and as it is a thing not to be justified that men should fight against God with the wit, and wealth, and power, which he gives them, so it is a thing not to be suffered. But if men will be thus proud and daring, and bid defiances to all that is just and sacred, let them expect that God will reckon with them; the more insolent they are the surer and sorer will their ruin be. (2.) By way of rivalship and competition. Shall the axe take to itself the praise of the work it is employed in? So senseless, so absurd was it for Sennacherib to say, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, v. 13. It is as if the rod, when it is shaken, should boast that it guides the hand which shakes it; whereas, when the staff is lifted up, is it not wood still? so the last clause may be read. If it be an ensign of authority (as the nobles of the people carried staves, Num. xxi. 18), if it be an instrument of service, either to support a weak man or to correct a bad man, still it is wood, and can do nothing but as it is directed by him that uses it. The psalmist prays that God would make the nations to know that they were but men (Ps. ix. 20), the staff to know that it is but wood.

2. He foretels his fall and ruin.

(1.) That when God had done his work by him he would then do his work upon him, v. 12. For the comfort of the people of God in reference to Sennacherib's invasion, though it was a dismal time with them, let them know, [1.] That God designed to do good to Zion and Jerusalem by this providence. There is a work to be done upon them, which God intends, and which he will perform. Note, When God lets loose the enemies of his church and people, and suffers them for a time to prevail, it is in order to the performing of some great good work upon them; and, when that is done, then, and not till then, he will work deliverance for them. When God brings his people into trouble it is to try them (Dan. xi. 35), to bring sin to their remembrance and humble them for it, and to awaken them to a sense of their duty, to teach them to pray and to love and help one another; and this must be the fruit, even the taking away of sin, ch. xxvii. 9. When these points are, in some measure, gained by the affliction, it shall be removed, in mercy (Lev. xxvi. 41, 42), otherwise not; for, as the word, so the rod shall accomplish that for which God sends it. [2.] That when God had wrought this work of grace for his people he would work a work of wrath and vengeance upon their invaders: I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria. His big words are here said to come from his stout heart, and they are the fruit of it; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Notice is taken too of the glory of his high looks, for a proud look is the indication of a proud spirit. The enemies of the church are commonly very high and haughty; but, sooner or later, God will reckon for their haughtiness. He glories in it as an incontestable proof of his power and sovereignty that he looks upon proud men and abases them, Job xl. 11, &c.

(2.) That, how threatening soever this attempt was upon Zion and Jerusalem, it should certainly be baffled, and broken, and come to nothing, and he should not be able to bring to pass his enterprise, v. 16, 19. Observe,

[1.] Who it is that undertakes his destruction, and will be the author of it; not Hezekiah, or his princes, or the militia of Judah and Jerusalem (what can they do against such a potent force?), but God himself will do it, as the Lord of hosts, and as the light of Israel. First, We are sure he can do it, for he is the Lord of hosts, of all the hosts of heaven and earth. All the creatures are at his command; he makes what use he pleases on them. He is the Lord of the hosts both of Judah and of Assyria, and can give the victory to which he pleases. Let us not fear the hosts of any enemy if we have the Lord of hosts for us. Secondly, We have reason to hope he will do it, for he is the light of Israel, and his Holy One. God is light; in him are perfect brightness, purity, and happiness. He is light, for he is the Holy One; his holiness is his glory. He is Israel's light, to direct and counsel his people, to favour and countenance them, and so to gladden and comfort them in the worst of times. He is their Holy One, for he is in covenant with them; his holiness is engaged and employed for them. God's holiness is the saints' comfort; they give thanks at the remembrance of it, and with a great deal of pleasure call him their Holy One, Hab. i. 12.

[2.] How this destruction is represented. It shall be, First, As a consumption of the body by a disease: The Lord shall send leanness among his fatnesses, or his fat ones. His numerous army, that was like a body covered with fatness, shall be diminished, and waste away, and become like a skeleton. Secondly, As a consumption of buildings, or trees and bushes, by fire: Under his glory, that very thing which he glories in, he will kindle a burning, as the burning of a fire, which shall lay his army in ruins as suddenly as a raging fire lays a stately house in ashes. Some make it an allusion to the fire kindled under the sacrifices; for proud sinners fall as sacrifices to divine justice. Observe, 1. How this fire shall be kindled, v. 17. The same God that is a rejoicing light to those that serve him faithfully will be a consuming fire to those that trifle with him or rebel against him. The light of Israel shall be for a fire to the Assyrians, as the same pillar of cloud was a light to the Israelites and a terror to the Egyptians in the Red Sea. What can oppose, what can extinguish, such a fire? 2. What desolation it shall make: it shall burn and devour its thorns and briers, his officers and soldiers, which are of little worth, and vexations to God's Israel, as thorns and briers, whose end is to be burned, and which are easily and quickly consumed by a devouring fire. "Who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? They would be so far from stopping the fire that they would inflame it. I would go through them and burn them together (ch. xxvii. 4); they shall be devoured in one day, all cut off in an instant." When they cried not only Peace and safety, but Victory and triumph, then sudden destruction came; it came surprisingly, and was completed in a little time. "Even the glory of his forest (v. 18), the choice troops of his army, the veterans, the troops of the household, the bravest regiments he had, that he was most proud of and depended most upon, that he valued as men do their timber-trees (the glory of their forest) or their fruit-trees (the glory of the Carmel), shall be put as briers and thorns before the fire; they shall be consumed both soul and body, entirely consumed, not only a limb burned, but life taken away." Note, God is able to destroy both soul and body, and therefore we should fear him more than man, who can but kill the body. Great armies before him are but as great woods, which he can fell or fire when he pleases.

[3.] What would be the effect of this great slaughter. The prophet tells us, First, That the army would hereby be reduced to a very small number: The rest of the trees of his forest shall be few; very few shall escape the sword of the destroying angel, so few that there needs no artist, no muster-master or secretary of war, to take an account of them, for even a child may soon reckon the numbers of them, and write the names of them. Secondly, That those few who remained should be quite dispirited: They shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth. When he either falls or flees, and his colours are taken by the enemy, this discourages the whole army, and puts them all into confusion. Upon the whole matter we must say, Who is able to stand before this great and holy Lord God?