THE DOWNFALL OF A MIGHTY EMPIRE
MAHER-SHALAL-HASHBAZ WAS ASSYRIA’S COMMISSION
“He may rob the spoil and take the plunder” (Isaiah 10:6). Here we see the full intelligence of Isaiah’s son’s name, “Maher-shalal-Hash-baz,” as applying to the Assyrians ( The name means hasten to the spoil, speed to the prey). Notwithstanding my opinion of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, speaking to Assyria’s king and advising Assyria of God’s intention for Assyria in what was then their near future, Isaiah here refers to the commission of Yahweh to the monarchy of Assyria. The same words are here used to explain what Isaiah was saying about God’s direction for whoever was on the throne of Assyria. In answer to the question; “How, when and by whom did Assyria know that they were called to be tha hand of God in international judgements, I can only refer my readers to the previous pages referring to the book of Jonah.
My personal understanding of prophecy is such, and it is an understanding accentuated when I hear an inspired Old Testament prophet speak as he does in Isaiah 10, that when, by the Spirit of God, a person, people or nation are blessed or cursed by a prophet of God, that blessing or curse will definitely and clearly take place. A pronounced word direct from God is an event, an occurrence, a historical happening pronounced beforehand. The only issue that could involve variance is the amount of time between the prediction being made, and the point of time when that blessing or curse actually bites and takes place. If the prophet doesn’t speak, the blessing or curse or whatever will never take place. That is how important a true prophet is.
Isaiah 10:5 says, “Woe to Assyria.” My response is to cringe at the words spoken and rejoice that I am not an Assyrian of Isaiah’s day. Rest assured the woe is on its way! Assyria had better watch out! But wherever Isaiah was when he first made the pronunciation concerning Assyria’s woe, he then made it clear as to the whys and wherefores of this woe being promised to overcome the Assyrian nation.
A COMMISSION WAS GIVEN
The commission, “speed to the prey and hasten to the booty,” was dispatched to Assyria. Isaiah 10:6 tells us plainly that Assyria’s role was to spoil and plunder the nations around the Middle East that were godless. Frankly, it has to be conceded that this order included every single nation in the Middle East and beyond. Sadly it also had included both Israel and Judah. They were to spoil the nations and take the plunder and nothing more. No matter how godless we may perceive Assyria to have been we need to remember their response to Jonah. God firmly had his hand on Assyria at the start of their rise to imperialistic power. Nations were to be trampled down because of their godless ways, and Assyria was chosen by Yahweh Himself to be the one to do the trampling. The spoil and the booty was Assyria’s. They were not to go any further than what was therein expressed in the commission.
God had a disciplinary rod and that rod was Assyria. Assyria was not only God’s staff, but they too were given a rod with which to discipline Israel, Judah and the other nations around them. Their rod was the anger of God towards them all for being idolaters and indulging in godless and evil lifestyles (10:5).
THE COMMISSION WAS EXCEEDED
Assyria went beyond what God had commissioned them to do. Even if I am incorrect when I hypothesize about Jonah’s input to the Assyrian king in the visitation that takes place in the biblical volume that bears his name, somehow, somewhere God had spoken to Assyria and told them how to conduct themselves in their violent conduct of disciplining the godless world in which they lived. If this were not true, and/or they were not holding that information in their national Chronicles and archives, then Isaiah would not be able to say what he says here in 10:5-6. They were aware of their God given mission.
Assyrian kings had always believed, as was the general Middle Eastern conviction of nearly all monarchs in those days, that the real secret behind winning any battle, or defeating any other nation, was the battle between the gods of the nations that were engaged in combat. Asshur, the god of Assyria was obviously much greater than the god’s of the other nations! Why could they hold such a presupposition? Simple! Because Assyria had risen over the previous 30 years or so by conquest and torturous treatment of those that they had beaten. This “proved,” as far as they were concerned, that their god was better than any other. Unfortunately other nations and their kings also believed this to be true of themselves. Without any shadow of any doubt, in the days of Tiglath Pileser III Assyria were the most fearful people to confront. They were mighty, they were aggressively imperialistic, and they were sickeningly cruel.
With this religious philosophy solidly embedded into their mindset and culture, Assyria ridiculed and maligned any god named by the nations they fought, and even mocked them prior to meeting them on the battlefield, or besieging their cities. “Our god is better than your god! So you had better give in!” All the nations of the Middle East had idolatrous religions. Israel and Judah, however, howbeit centuries earlier, had willfully entered into a covenant with Yahweh – God Almighty – that they would never take up idols. But they did not stay true to that commitment. For that reason, even though the historical stories of Yahweh, Moses, and various Judges along with King David and Solomon were widely known by all, Assyria were given to understand that Israel had two main idols at Bethel and Dan whom the Hebrews of the Northern Kingdom declared had brought them out of Egypt centuries earlier. On top of that horror, even though Judah had a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, they too had idols in every town, city and hilltop. From the Assyrian perspective there seemed to be no difference between the two Hebrew nations and the rest of the world. They too would have known of the stories of Moses and the plagues of Egypt and the basic conquering of Canaan. But then, as they confront the two Hebrew nations, it must have been a great sigh of relief to discover that Yahweh was only another idol. This is exactly how Rabshakeh understands things when he taunted the people in Jerusalem in the account given in Isaiah 36-38. “How can you Hebrews stand against us when your king has pulled down all the shrines and high places, and you have no idols left?” is Lannon’s true paraphrase of how he was thinking (Isaiah 36:4-10). Oh dear! That was a catastrophic mistake on their part. They were looking into the whites of Yahweh’s eyes and mocking Him.
THE PARAMETERS OF THE COMMISSION WERE EXCEEDED BECAUSE OF ARROGANCE
Everything was fine and within the parameters of God’s order, until Assyria became a little too full of themselves and were plotting and planning to do more than what God’s commission had set them to do. God had sent Assyria to humble the nations, and that was particularly needful for the two Hebrew nations. Assyria, however, were changing the names of nations, the borders of states and peoples, and even exiling the leaders and aristocracy of nations in order to break the spirit of tribal and national cohesiveness with the aim of killing off the threat of future rebellion against the Assyrian “master race.” It sounds familiar to recent European history books to a certain extent. In short, to use street language, they were “playing God.” They were suffering from “delusions of grandeur.” Assyria had lost the plot that had been mapped out for them by Yahweh Himself. Having been sent by God and obeyed Him, in the passing of three or four decades the divine commission had been forgotten and Assyria had degenerated in a cesspit of megalomania.
Isaiah 10:7 actually states what the kings of Assyria were thinking. Just as Elisha had known all that the king of Syria was whispering in his bedroom in 2 Kings 6, so Isaiah was given insight into how the kings of Assyria were thinking and planning. Assyria’s intention was not now Yahweh’s intention. The biblical text says exactly that. Isaiah sees that the kings of Assyria now intended to wipe nations off the map like some wipe food off a plate, and then to exile the population to other parts of the world to relocate them with broken hearts and spirits. These were the actions of pure haughtiness, self importance and egotism. They had crossed a line with God. They had disqualified themselves from being the rod of God’s anger. His anger was now pointed at them, and another empire was to rise and dismiss them as they had dismissed so many others.
The pride and arrogance of Assyrians kings, as well as their people was an offence to God as they continued to extend themselves in squashing and annihalating nation after nation around the Middle East. Syria was annihilated, as was Israel. To mock Yahweh in the face of the Judahites would be truly a bridge too far. By blaspheming and mocking Yahweh, they would be inviting the true and living God into the battle, the result of which did not bear thinking about by the Assyrians. Yahweh had his prophet (perhaps prophets) behind the walls of Jerusalem, and Yahweh would be quick to speak to his man on site if and when Assyria ever came knocking on Jerusalem’s front door. To say that the Rabshakeh and king Sennacharib were walking on thin ice in Isaiah 36-37 would be a huge understatement.
Isaiah saw them approaching something like 22 years prior to Assyria besieging Jerusalem. Isaiah hears God, and is even told exactly what the king of Assyria would be thinking when he arrives (howbeit 22 years into the future) in the same way that he lets his readers into what the king was thinking at that very moment in time. It was clearly going to be a huge “Woe to Assyria.”
The pride of the Assyrian kings led them to believe that even the princes that they surrounded themselves with were bigger, braver and better than many of the kings that ruled over the Middle Eastern kingdoms at that moment. “ Are not my captains all of them kings?” (Isaiah 10:8). Later, it is exactly this sentiment that Rabshakeh garbled out to the population of Jerusalem, trembling behind the city walls (see Isaiah 36-38). But by reading Isaiah we know what Rabshakeh did not know. Yahweh had Assyria’s case file open on His desk and was about to resolve the “Assyrian crisis” that was growing.
THE COMMISSION WAS ALLOWED IN ISRAEL’S CASE, YET WITHDRAWN FOR JUDAH’S SAKE.
Assyria did their business exceeding the divine permit with Israel. God allowed Assyria to take Israel. But Isaiah spoke to stop the empire’s illegal rampage. They would not be the rod of God that was to deal with Judah. That mammoth and tragic act of correction would be left for another world empire that at the time Isaiah was speaking had a long ascension to make before they would have the power to address themselves to Assyria.
The Assyrian monarch is here shown to be comparing campaigns accomplished with campaigns planned. Is not Calno in Northern Syria (a city not yet taken) like Carchemish on the Euphrates (a city they had already taken)? Is not Arpad, the key centre of Syria not yet taken, the same as Hamath on the Orontes River (a city they had taken already)? Is not Samaria like Damascus? Damascus fell in 732 BC, Samaria fell in 722 BC, informing us that this oracle was originally spoken, or written between those two dates, and that Samaria was still standing at the moment the message was delivered. The order in which Isaiah mentions the cities also suggests that at the time of Isaiah speaking, Samaria was Assyria’s main focus of attention. It may have been close to 722 BC, and it could even have been only a couple of years prior to the siege.
The Palace of Asshur Izi pal
Isaiah 10:10 reveals a lot concerning Assyrian monarchs and their mindsets. “Just as my hand found the kingdoms of idols,” reveals his total arrogance as to the privilege of his conquests and imperial expansion. He gives not even a tip of his arrogant hat to Yahweh who instructed him to do what he was doing. He did not even mention the Assyrian deity Asshur. He found the idolatrous nations and conquered them. It was all a matter of “I, Me, Mine.” Next, the Assyrian king makes a statement that was a bold faced affrontary to all Hebrews everywhere. He refers to the nations that he had already conquered as having idols and graven images that were better than those that he had seen from Jerusalem and Samaria. In response to his remark here, we give a thumbs down and shout at Judah and Israel, “Shame on you!”
I am sure that the monarchs over the Middle East knew the intimate relationship that the nation of Israel had with Judah. They were all aware that there was something different about the Hebrew religion and the God that they adhered to, yet I feel sure that they had not grasped the fundamental reality of Yahweh when compared to the tin pot invented gods invented by the other nations.
This remark makes it absolutely clear, like a blinding flash, that in a time to come (701 BC) the ultimate goal of Assyria would be Jerusalem.
The logic that the king of Assyria worked on was incredibly proud and arrogant. Little did he know – or even guess- that these basic attitudes towards the national achievements and their imperial stature were the very things that would cause their downfall, and that this downfall would come much quicker than they could imagine. Woe to Assyria.
THE COMMISSION WAS RESCINDED BY THE GOD WHO GAVE IT
The Palace of Sargon II
Isaiah then continued that at this later date, when Assyria would be marching down to do away with Judah and Jerusalem, as they had done to other nations and capital cities, God was to “visit judgment on the fruit of the pride of the heart of the king of Assyria and upon the haughty spirit of his eyes” (Isaiah 10:12). If I understand the time and direction of Isaiah’s words aright, Isaiah was her addressing himself to Tiglath Pileser III the ingenious expansionist ruler of Assyria that was ruling at this time, as well as the pride of heart that was to dominate his successors.
Isaiah’s words reveal that it was Tiglath Pileser’s deliberate intention to change borders and to plunder the wealth of nations (2 Kings 17:24 onwards). It was his intention to bring down mighty rulers of other nations. He claims that he found these nations as somebody could find neglected eggs in a birds nest. He could freely pick the eggs of a nations population, and there was no parent, or mother bird to chirp and flap their wings to stop him. He calls himself clever, and to be like a “mighty one” (better translated as a “Bull colossus”). This supreme peak of arrogance and pride is indeed the same spirit that one can so easily discern in the steles and stones of remembrance that many of the Assyrian kings raised within the Middle East and are to be found in many of the world’s museums.
The extreme braggadocio of Assyria’s monarch would in the end kill Tiglath Pileser III, as well as Sargon II and Sennacharib, and crucially debilitate Assyria in the first steps that would lead to their complete and utter removal from the map. “Woe to Assyria,” is what the prophet said in Isaiah 10:5, and woes do not get any worse than what happened to Assyria.
THOSE COMMISSIONED WERE DEPLETED
Assyrian soldiers, tha masters of massacre and the Titans of torture.
Isaiah explains how the king of Assyria had lost the plot of his purpose in life (Isaiah 10:15). He was merely the axe that God was using to bring judgment to others. The moment he, as the axe, started to delude himself that he was greater than He who was wielding the axe, he was in dire and eternal trouble himself, and had placed his entire nation into the hands of the grim reaper. Woe to Assyria!
For that reason Yahweh was to send a wasting sickness upon the soldiers of Assyria (Isaiah 10:16). It cannot really be argued against that this aspect of Isaiah’s prophecy was literally fulfilled in 701 BC when 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died overnight whilst camped at the very gates of Jerusalem. The fire under the “glory” of Assyria was probably the fire of the infighting and deep rifts that filled the Assyrian royal family and palaces over several decades. Kings were assassinated by their own sons and families in order to gain the Assyrian throne. The once mighty empire of Assyria was clearly on the slide into oblivion.
THOSE COMMISSIONED WERE TOTALLY DISSIPATED
If I understand the complexity of the Hebrew phraseology correctly, when Isaiah writes in Isaiah 10:19 that, “what is left of the trees of their forest will be so few that any lad will be able to count the number and write them down,” it is a prophetic prediction of Assyria finally going down into the plughole of history. The empire diminished and diminished while Babylon was beginning to expand and expand. In 612 BC, Babylon finally conquered Assyria. That was a moment that left the remains of Assyria still breathing, but hardly so. The critically ill invalid of the nation of Assyria finally became a Cadaver in 609 BC. I read in one volume that the number of survivors could be counted on several hands. How true that was I have not the slightest idea, but from then on, Assyria as a nation was a thing of the past. There is today a small population who still refer to themselves as Assyrians. They are clearly Semitic, but neither Jew nor Arab.
And according to Isaiah, the fall of the once great nation was nothing to do with their nation’s god, the strength of their armies, or the battle skill of their kings. It was all to do with something we refer to as pride. Woe to Assyria! Woe to those who are dominated by pride.
The phenomenal populated city of Ancient Erbil in North Eastern Iraq