It is a well-known principle of Scripture interpretation to recognize that often prophecies have double applications or fulfillments. Many of the conditions through which Israel and the Gentile nations have already passed depict circumstances that will be faced in the future. Some of those conditions prefigure the days of the great tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble, when divine wrath will be poured out on guilty and apostate Christendom and Judaism alike.
We see an example of a double application in Isaiah 10, which deals primarily with Judah and Assyria in the days of King Hezekiah, but also looks forward to the endtimes. Then the last great Assyrian, the haughty enemy of the Jews in the time of the end, will be destroyed in Immanuel’s land before he can wreak his vengeance on the remnant nation who will be gathered back to God and to their land. Only as we keep these two fulfillments of the prophetic word in mind, can we understand this chapter correctly.
In the opening verses we see Judah’s sad internal condition calling for judgment on the part of the God whom they professed to serve, but so grievously dishonored. Another solemn woe is pronounced on those who in their pride and selfishness issued unrighteous decrees in order to legalize their oppression of the poor and enriched themselves at the expense of the fatherless.
Monopolies are not a recent expression of the selfishness of the human heart. In Judah, as in civilized lands today, there were those who considered it good business to take advantage of others in adverse circumstances and to profit from the ruin of their less fortunate fellow men. All this was hateful to the God of judgment who weighs men’s actions.
Any economic system that is built on a disregard of the rights of the poor will inevitably be destroyed. Then what will become of the men who have ignored the Word of the Lord and gloried in their success while trampling on their competitors and forcing them to yield to their demands or go down in rain? “What,” the prophet asked the people, “will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?”
God has decreed, “Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Samuel 2:30). He permits men and nations to go just so far in their own willful way; then He deals with them in His indignation, sweeping away their ill-gotten wealth and causing them to bewail the luxuries that they can no longer retain. What can men say when this happens? Where can they turn to save themselves from even greater disaster?
In Judah’s case the overrunning of the land by the armies of Sennacherib was the cause of much of their suffering, but it was permitted by God as chastening for their sins. Without His deliverance they were helpless to defend themselves, and so would be taken as prisoners or slain by the cruel foe.
In this passage God addressed the Assyrian directly and in a way that shows He had far more than the invasion of Sennacherib in view. He also had in mind the final enemy in the last days. Notice that it is “when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem” that the Assyrian will be punished. This needs to be kept in mind as the passage is read and studied.
When King Ahaz was threatened with utter ruin by the kings of Israel and Syria, he asked the king of Assyria for help, only to find out later that this covetous ruler aspired to complete ascendancy over all the lands to the west, including Judah. Indeed Sennacherib would descend on the land like a mighty torrent, until his army was destroyed by pestilence in one night as he besieged Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah. This terrible ruthless enemy from Assyria became the type of the godless foe that in the last days will attempt to bring Palestine under its control, only to be destroyed by omnipotent power on the mountains of Israel.
As the rod of Jehovah’s anger, Assyria was used, as other nations have been used before and since, to chasten the people of God because of their turning away from Him. But in the day of their repentance He destroyed the enemy that had brought disaster upon Judah.
When Isaiah wrote this passage, the haughty destroyer did not yet realize that he was just an instrument in the hand of Jehovah, the God whose name he despised. But he was to learn by bitter experience that after he had been used to punish “an hypocritical nation,” he himself was doomed to utter destruction. To the Assyrian, Jerusalem was just another city to be overthrown as so many others had been overthrown; but he was to learn that the God whose temple was in that city was supreme above all the so-called gods that had been powerless to deliver pagan cities out of his hands.
Jehovah’s “whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem” includes the return of His people to Himself. In the days that He takes them up again as a nation, He will deal with the Assyrian and with all who have afflicted them.
Not understanding the use that God was making of him, the Assyrian vaunted himself as though he accomplished everything and won all his victories because of his own wisdom and prudence. So he ruthlessly and heartlessly robbed and oppressed the nations, including Israel and Judah. To him all other people were, like abandoned birds’ eggs, to be despoiled—and other armies were as helpless as mother birds when their nests are rifled.
Not knowing that he was only an ax in the hand of Him who hewed down the trees of the forest, the Assyrian boasted as though the power and might were all his own. He magnified himself against the One who designed to use him to chasten the nations because of their wickedness and corruption. Therefore in the reckoning day that was coming, God would deal as sternly with him as he had dealt with others. Just as he had sown hatred and cruelty, so he would reap indignation and wretchedness.
In the day of Jehovah’s triumph He will vindicate the remnant in Israel who have put their trust in Him, and they will be as a flame to devour the nations that have sought their destruction. As in the days of Ahasuerus and Mordecai, the Jews will execute judgment on those who have plotted to destroy them and root them out of the earth. Fulfilled will be the Word of God with its promise that while He would punish His people in measure for their sins, He would never break His covenant with them—a covenant made first to Abraham and then confirmed to David.
Although many of the nations that have afflicted Israel will be completely destroyed, Israel will not. When the judgments of God are being poured out on the earth in the dark days of the great tribulation, a remnant of the Jews will turn to the Lord in deep repentance and in living faith. These will prove the greatness of His mercy and the unfailing character of His promises. No longer relying on help from the powers that persecuted and failed them in the hour of their need (as when Ahaz turned first to Assyria and then to Egypt in his desperate plight), they will find their resource and protection in God Himself.
The prophetic Word is clear and free of all obscurity. Only unbelief can deny its definite application to a literal remnant of the sons of Jacob when they turn to the Lord in the time of their greatest trouble. Then He will come to their aid, and He will save the nation in the remnant. We need to remember that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). Of Jacob’s descendants, who will be as numerous “as the sand of the sea,” the great majority will go into utter apostasy and be destroyed in their sins. But a remnant will return and be acknowledged by God as His people. This remnant will be the true Israel and so in the day of Jehovah’s power “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26).
In view of this declaration of the divine purpose, God called on His people to trust His Word and not to fear the Assyrian, proud and powerful though he was. Then in clear and definite terms, the prophet predicted the overthrow of the enemy who was hammering as it were at the gate of Jerusalem. God would prevent the carrying out of the Assyrian’s purpose even though it might seem for a time that Judah’s case was hopeless.
As far as the prophecy had to do with the Assyrian of the past, all was literally fulfilled in due time. When in the last days another mighty power comes against Palestine from the same region as that occupied by the Assyrians of old, his doom will be just as certain.
Prophecy is history written beforehand, and here Isaiah foretold the path that the Assyrian took as he marched through Palestine, wreaking his vengeance on city after city. The prophet also foretold the Assyrian’s defeat when the Lord of hosts at last intervened with His mighty power for the deliverance of those who had cried to Him in the hour of their distress. No military strategy, no weapons of war could avail to save the haughty invader when the hand of God was stretched out against him.
What a lesson for faith we have here! These prophecies, while applying directly to Judah and her foes, have precious lessons for us today. It is not true that God is on the side of the greatest armies, as some have said. He stands ready to uphold all who put their confidence in Him and who rely not on an arm of flesh, but on His omnipotence and unchanging love for His own.