I had a tree in my back yard that we decided needed to go away. Let’s say that it was a rebellious tree. Well, it’s my land and I don’t want rebellious trees hanging about. There is another tree in the front yard that needed to be pruned up; some of its branches were hanging too low. I have a tool; a tool that seems evil to every tree. Well, you know, if trees could feel and think, they would feel that my chainsaw was evil. Right? So, I start up the evil beast and wield it against the tree. It’s not pleasant, but I feel it’s necessary. And then I march on into the front yard and begin to prune the other tree. And then something strange happens. The chainsaw begins to boast about being the great tree slayer. It shouts at the tree that it will cut it all down to a stump. It even belittles me. So, I cut the branches I wanted to cut and then I burned the chainsaw. I will not tolerate a tool talking back and overstepping, thank you very much.
Isaiah 10:5-19 is God’s judgment against his tool: Assyria. It begins with a “Woe, ah, alas, dissatisfaction and pain” directed toward Assyria. Even though Assyria was God’s rod of anger and staff of outbursts, it does not resemble or speak like a tool at all. God sent it against the godless nation of Israel. And here Isaiah uses a word that the Jewish people often used of the Gentiles: goy. At one time they may have been his ahmim (people), but now they are just one of the other godless nations; a people of his fury. He commissioned Assyria to spoil the spoil; to plunder the plunder; the trample down the trampled down. Three times Isaiah used the verb and noun of the same word. Israel will become a trampled clay road. Ah, but Assyria didn’t want to resemble a tool so it rampaged and boasted. It boasted of all the little kings she had gobbled up and made vassal kings. She boasted of defeating Calno (738 B.C), Carchemish (717 B.C.), Hamath (720 B.C.), Arpad (720 B.C.), Samaria (722 B.C.), and Damascus (732 B.C.). All of these cities were subjected to Assyria before their destruction. Jerusalem paid tribute, but was not seriously threatened until Hezekiah.
Assyria, the tool, even looked down on the God that sent and commissioned it, viewing the gods of other nations as superior. At this time defeating a nation was also defeating its gods. They would take the idols and place them in their own temples to demonstrate that their god was victorious. Assyria reached the great idols of great nations. So, of course, Jerusalem and her little god will fall. This is a boast that never happened. Even though Assyria never realized it, they were just a tool; an evil raging and violent tool, but a tool nonetheless. So, God speaks into this boast and lets them know that when he has completely pruned the religious (Mount Zion) and political structure (Jerusalem), he will then visit with punishment the fruit and heart of the king of Assyria. The king who boasts about his own might and skill and discernment, believing with all of his heart that he was more than a tool. He had moved around the boundaries because, well, he could. He cut down whole nations. He reached out his hand and snatched them like eggs from an abandoned nest. It was that easy. “I’m telling you, I’m an amazing guy.”
God interjects again with a parable of a boasting axe who thinks its better than the wielder. Or the saw who lifted itself up over the hand holding it. Or the club who tries to wield the one who lifted it up. Or the rod who forgot that it was made of wood. We know that this could never happen. Tools are just tools after all. Ah, but God wields nations like a tool. And those nations don’t realize it, so they boast and brag and carry on. So, Assyria’s stout soldiers will waste away to nothing with a disease. The Master, Yahweh of Armies, is sending disease and fire. Israel’s God is no mere idol. No! He is the light that will burst into flame and Assyria will burn. The great forests that Assyria was so proud of will have so few trees that a child will be put in charge of counting them.
When a tool no longer resembles a tool, it is time to chuck it. Again, there is a great mystery here. God can pick up evil (disobedient) or good (obedient) tools. It is better for us if we are obedient tools. Obedient tools last longer. They live happier and more fulfilled lives. Assyria may have had years of self-aggrandizing, but she was still merely a tool. An evil tool that cut Israel down and pruned Judah. When that was accomplished, God visited her with punishment and she fell in 612 B.C. That may seem unfair, but Assyria was a ruthless and evil nation; a bully who terrorized other nations for years. Because he is God, Yahweh can pick up any tool. Be a good tool then; an obedient tool.