Isaiah 10 Study Notes


10:1-2 On woe, see note at 1:4. God’s law protected the socially vulnerable: the poor (see Ex 23:6,11; Dt 15:4-11), widows (Ex 22:22), and the fatherless (Dt 10:18). Isaiah condemned man-made laws that corrupted justice.

10:3 When the day of reckoning comes, where will they turn? Verse 4 answers his rhetorical questions.

10:4 With the fourth repetition of the refrain concerning God’s anger (cp. 9:12,17,21), the section comes to a close. The refrain identifies the main theme of the passage (9:8-10:4). Though punishment has come, God’s people still have not repented. More judgment will follow.

10:5 The pronouncement opens with a woe against Assyria. On woe see note at 1:4 (see also 5:8-30). This woe is directed toward the enemy rather than toward God’s people (10:1). Assyria is the tool he will use to bring punishment against Israel and Judah. The reference to a rod brings to mind the extensive teaching in Proverbs about using a rod to drive the folly out of a child (Pr 10:13; 22:15) and how a rod is applied to one’s son to encourage him to travel the right path (Pr 13:24; 23:13-14).

10:6 The godless nation is ironically not Assyria but Israel. They will become the object of God’s anger. The phrase to take spoils, to plunder is reminiscent of the name Maher-shalal-hash-baz, “Speeding to the Plunder, Hurrying to the Spoil” (8:1).

10:7 There was a difference between the divine intention and the intention of Assyria. This difference was no obstacle to God’s use of Assyria for his purposes, but it did bode poorly for the tool of God’s anger. While God’s intention was to promote his own glory by punishing his sinful people, Assyria was interested only in imperialistic expansion.

10:8-11 Isaiah quotes the proud words of the Assyrian king.

10:9 These three pairs of cities each begin with the southernmost of the two. Thus, Calno (also known as Calneh) was south of Carchemish, Hamath was south of Arpad, and Samaria was south of Damascus. These cities were paired and listed for geographical and not chronological reasons since Carchemish was conquered by the Assyrians in 717 BC, Calno in 738, Hamath in 738 and 720, and Arpad in 740. The claim of the Assyrian king was an imperialistic one, again demonstrating that his intention was different from God’s.

10:10-11 The comparisons of southern cities to northern ones culminate in a final comparison between Samaria in the north and Jerusalem in the south: both were practicing idolatry as the Syrian cities did (v. 9).

10:12 God will overrule Assyria’s imperialistic intentions. Indeed, he will use their godless motivation to accomplish his own goal of punishing his idolatrous people. Nonetheless, the king of Assyria and his nation will not get off the hook.

10:13-14 The boastful quotation from the Assyrian king reflects the type of bombastic language used in contemporary Assyrian royal inscriptions. The image of the Assyrian king stealing eggs from an abandoned nest emphasizes his cruelty in taking advantage of weaker nations. Indeed, no one can put up a substantial challenge to his growing power.

10:15 The Assyrian king’s boasts are ill-founded. From his perspective, he was a mighty warrior and a great leader of armies. From a heavenly perspective, he was a mere tool used by God to accomplish his purposes. The use of rhetorical questions directed to the king has the function of scolding and embarrassing him in his pretension. Each question has the implied answer, “Of course not.”

10:16-19 The conjunction therefore serves as a transition from indictment to judgment. The description of the punishment by disease and fire could be taken literally, metaphorically, or both. The point is clear: glorious and prosperous Assyria will soon be weakened by the judgment of God.

10:17 The image of God as Light is typically used for positive purposes (Ps 27:1), but like the light of the sun, God both illuminates so people can see clearly and also scorches and kills in judgment.

10:20 The remnant will turn their trust to God rather than a foreign power.

10:21-23 God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand of the sea (see Gn 22:17; 32:12; 41:49), but because of their punishment, only a remnant would survive and even that would be an act of God’s grace. Paul quotes vv. 22-23 in Rm 9:27-28.

10:24 The present Assyrian threat is compared to the bondage in Egypt. This comparison evokes memories of God’s deliverance of his people at the Red Sea (Ex 14-15).

10:25 God’s wrath against his covenant people is temporary, but his wrath against Assyria will end in their destruction.

10:26 Oreb was a Midianite leader who oppressed the Israelites during the period of the judges. He was defeated by the forces of Gideon and executed at a rock that was given his name, the rock of Oreb (Jdg 7:24-25). The reference to God’s staff in Egypt recalls the crossing of the Red Sea. Moses raised his staff, representing God’s presence. God caused the sea to divide, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army (Ex 14:21-31).

10:27 The yoke is an image of political domination frequently used by the prophets (14:25; 47:6; 58:6; Jr 27:11; 30:8; Ezk 30:18).

10:28-32 The pronouncement in these verses describes the march of the Assyrian army from the north to the very doorstep of Jerusalem. While some have suggested that this describes an actual attack on Jerusalem, it cannot be equated with the Assyrian advance that took place in 701 BC under Sennacherib because the army took a different route. This leads certain scholars to propose a second, later Assyrian campaign on Judah, but this is doubtful. The route described in these verses is unlikely to be one taken by an actual army since the terrain would be difficult to cross. The best understanding of these verses is as a visionary image of an attack, not a description of an actual attack. The route described is the most direct route “as the crow flies,” indicating that not even natural obstacles could slow down the army’s advance.

10:28 Aiath is likely identified with Ai (Jos 8), which was about thirty miles north of Jerusalem. But the Hebrew term Ai means “ruin” and Aiath is plural, “ruins,” so the name could be given to a number of different sites. Migron refers to the Wadi Swenit, a dry riverbed between Michmash and Geba.

10:29 Ramah and Gibeah were on the major central hill route north of Jerusalem.

10:30 Gallim . . . Laishah, and Anathoth (known as the hometown of the prophet Jeremiah; Jr 1:1) were small towns just north of Jerusalem.

10:31 Madmenah and Gebim are still not identified, but they were probably villages just north of Jerusalem.

10:32 Nob is typically associated with modern Mount Scopus, just northeast of Jerusalem. As a person stands on Nob, he has a commanding view of the city of Jerusalem. Nob was where David received sustenance and the sword of Goliath as he began his flight from Saul. King Saul repaid the priests at Nob by slaughtering them (1Sm 21:1-9; 22:11-23). Nob is also mentioned in Neh 11:32 as near Anathoth.

10:33-34 The pronouncement ends with a sudden reversal. Assyria marched on Jerusalem, but the army met with destruction. They will become trees (a cedar from Lebanon is implied by the final line) that will be felled by none other than God himself. The Assyrians had been the ax in God’s hand against his people (v. 15), but God will wield an ax against them.