The Oracle of the Forester

There is something about a forest. And just like countries, or churches let’s say, there are many different kinds of forests. Some forests are full of tall majestic trees growing almost equally spaced out and with almost no underbrush. Some forests are thick with thickets; so thick that unless there is a trail you will be hard pressed to enter. One forest we hiked in was full of this plant called “The Devil’s Club.” And it’s called that for a reason. I was thankful for the trail. Do forests need foresters? Well, that may depend on the purpose of the forest. But I’m not really talking about forests.

Isaiah 10:33-34 is a wrap up of the previous oracles. Assyria is a tool wielded by Yahweh to deal with the rebelliousness of Israel and Judah. Israel will be destroyed with a scant remnant left. Judah will be flooded up to the neck. Assyria, an evil tool, will also be punished by God. He will march right on up to Jerusalem, but will only be able to wave his hand from Nob. But God wants his people to understand what is really happening here. It would be appropriate to label this short oracle as The Oracle of the Forester. The only question is this: Who is the forest?

Verse 33 is difficult, employing a couple of words that are hapax legomen (words that only appear once in the Bible). It could be translated, “Behold, Adonai, Yahweh of Armies, will decide; a beautiful and terrifying thing.” The word translated “lop off” can refer to a cleft, a branch, a division. If applied to a forester it may refer to dividing out the trees which must be removed from those which are healthy. The word “boughs” is found only here and it can refer to a headdress, a beauty. “A terrible crash” (also found only here in the Bible) means “a terrifying power.” If this interpretation is correct, and it does seem to fit with verse 34, the meaning would be that Adonai, Yahweh of Armies, is the forester. When he divides out the trees, it is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. When some people think of God they want to see only a benignly kind God. That is not the God of Scripture. He is beautifully awesome. And sometimes the forest needs foresting. This is not about tyranny. It is not about God flexing his power. It is about what is best for the forest.

There are some exalted to the heights trees that will be cut down. There are some prideful trees that will be made low. This is a common thread in the Bible. Many sources believe this is about Assyria. I don’t think that fits. This is an explanation of what God is doing among his people. His people are a forest that he wants to thrive. Ah, but they have hoisted themselves up to the highest heights. These proud trees need to be removed from the forest. They are killing it with their rebellious arrogant hearts.

Adonai, Yahweh of Armies, will strike down the thickets of the forest. It seems likely that this would apply more to Judah than to Assyria. The reason for clearing out the underbrush is to save the forest. Judah needed to understand why Assyria was allowed to march up to waving distance; why Israel had to fall; why the surrounding cities of Judah had to flee and seek refuge. The forest was sick and need of a powerful forester. The proud trees of Lebanon will fall. The word “fall” often implies a violent death. And make no mistake, this is accomplished by the Majestic One. Lebanon refers to a region on the slopes of Mount Hermon to the north of Israel. Because of this, many assume that it refers to Assyria. And this is possible. Often God lets his people know that he is using a nation as a tool to discipline them and then he will destroy the tool because it is an evil nation. Whether this refers to the strong and arrogant trees of his own people or to that of Assyria, the Forester is not impressed. They will fall.

So, picture a healthy majestic forest. Not a mangled old diseased forest. How does it stay healthy? It just may need a forester; someone to cut down the arrogant trees that tend to ruin a good forest; someone to cut away the thick underbrush that seems to suck the life out of the forest, not to mention becoming tender for a raging fire. Through Assyria, difficult things were going to happen. Israel was going to fall. Judah was going to be invaded and threatened. God wanted them to know that he is working on making the forest healthy again. Think of the church as the forest of God. Arrogance cannot beautify this forest; it is rotten and it ruins. The arrogant tree will not humbly submit to the Forester. It will rely on itself; lifting itself up and relying on its own ideas of right and wrong. It must be cut down for the forest to thrive. For the forest, the church, to thrive, it must rely on the wisdom of the Forester.