The Staff in Their Hands

April 25th, 2010 Apostle’s Creed Series 02 Isaiah 10:1-23 English Standard Version

1 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression,

2 to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!

3 What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?

4 Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

5 Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury!

6 Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

7 But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few;

8 for he says: “Are not my commanders all kings?

9 Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus?

10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,

11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her images?”

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.

13 For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.

14 My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing or opened the mouth or chirped.”

15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!

16 Therefore the Lord God of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire.

17 The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day.

18 The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the Lord will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.

19 The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few that a child can write them down.

20 In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.

22 For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness.

23 For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth.[1]

My sermon this morning is the second in a series on the Apostle’s Creed. Last week John 6 instructed us that our Divinely appointed work is to believe on Jesus. I believe is our first step into the Kingdom and the start of a life that pleases God. Without faith we can’t please God.

For two thousand years believers have been professing their faith in the message of the Scripture using the Apostle’s Creed. The creed is a compilation of the Baptismal formulas being used by the Apostles. It is Apostolic in that sense and I’ll explain more of what that means in a later sermon.

We Believe in God the Father Almighty.

Many of us as children sang the song, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” We sing the song as children and then struggle the rest of our life trying to understand the ramifications of God’s unlimited power.

For instance, “can God make a square circle?” He’s all powerful right? Can’t He do anything! “How many angels can He gather on the head of a pin?” “Can He make a gallon of water feel dry?” Questions like this spring from an immature mind. God is not a fool and doesn’t suffer fools.

The world asks better questions. For instance, “if God is all powerful then why does He allow good people to suffer?” “Why does He allow suffering at all?” Questions like this spring from an unbelieving heart. The questions are meant to slander God’s character, impugn His motives, and question His goodness. The Devil asks questions like this. Little white lies get embedded into the question to lead people to wrong conclusions and destroy their faith.

The world labels natural disasters acts of God. When a massive tornado destroys a town it is called the finger of God. When a volcano erupts, earthquake rumbles or a tsunami drowns tens of thousands – people ask why. Why God? Why did you do this?

Christians question God’s power too. When things go wrong we ask God where He was. Why didn’t God keep that drunk teenager from driving the car that struck my friend who died? Why God? Did God lose control just for a second? Did things get out of Hand? Out of His hand?

Isaiah 10 handles the most difficult issues about God’s sovereign power. God pulls back the curtain so we can see His hand in the darkest of times. Regardless of how we feel about what God shows us, we will all be very impressed by His self revelation. Let’s look at our passage.

In verse 1-4 God explains what made Him angry. God says that he is angry when we do not work for community justice. When we sleep soundly at night knowing that the poor and defenseless are oppressed, God gets angry. God’s anger is like the Hoover dam. Eventually, enough water pressure builds, God’s patience breaks, and judgment comes crashing down on sin.

How bad will it be for God’s people? In verse 3 God predicts that the Israelites will become so desperate during God’s wrath that their only refuge will be to cower among the prisoners or fall with the dead. The delay of God’s wrath was not a sign of God’s weakness. God’s power is outstretched and He will accomplish His purposes. It is only a matter of time.

The curtain is pulled back in verse 5-7. Polite company keeps us from hearing details about the war atrocities of the Assyrian army. War in ancient times was to rape, to pillage and to plunder regardless of age or gender. Sadly, many nations still do this. The world labels this kind of war as evil, war atrocities and crimes against humanity. Terrible and unspeakable things were done to women and children. Very evil stuff.

In verse 5 God really gets our attention with some shocking information. Ah! Assyria. God says, “they are the rod of my anger.” “The staff in their hands is my fury.”

Bring these two thoughts together. After the war the streets of Jerusalem were littered with the evidence of all sorts of evil war crimes. And our God in verse 5 says, “the staff in the hands of the Assyrians that clobbered the Israelites was my fury.” How can those two ideas be congruent? Is God taking credit for the war crimes, rape, and evil that happened to Israel?

Verse 6 reminds me of Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. So it was the hand of God that turned Assyria to wage war against His people Israel. God’s hand wasn’t passive. God was active in bringing this war to pass.

The Assyrians didn’t even realize that they were doing God’s bidding. Verse 7. The kings of Assyria do not so intend. It is not in his heart to think about serving God. But, it is in their heart to work destruction and cut off as many foreign nations as they can.

And God Almighty uses the destructive sinfulness in Assyria’s heart to accomplish His just plans to purge Israel of her idolatry and bring her back to trusting only the Lord.

It sounds a lot like Genesis 50:20 where Joseph tells his brothers that what they intended for evil God meant for good. Isaiah 10 isn’t that succinct, but it is the same message. In our passage God is saying that the destructive nature of Assyria is being used by God to judge Israel that she might be disciplined to repent and seek God.

When God used Assyria to strike His own people, God wasn’t endorsing their methods. God didn’t enjoy seeing Jesus get crucified on a cross, yet God did use the evil Roman empire to accomplish His purposes. If we were honest, we could point out that when God uses us He doesn’t endorse our sinful habits and practices either. If bad things happen to us at the hands of evil people, God hasn’t lost control. He is accomplishing His will regardless of the tool He holds.

In verses 8-14 Assyria boasts of their superiority. No, no, no. They have victory because God is accomplishing His purposes through them. But God isn’t like them. God is holy and one day Assyria too will have to answer for their sinfulness.

Your God is that big. He will accomplish His purposes even through broken, sinful people.

God can work around us if needed. Look at verse 15. A master craftsman can cut a piece of wood using an axe or a saw. God can use us if we are willing. God can use the Spanish church. God can accomplish His plans for this area using the Jehovah Witnesses. God can minister to the orphans and widows through the efforts of the Islamic temple. God can use the enemies of the cross to bring mercy and compassion to those in need.

Is that troubling to you? Your Almighty God can accomplish what He wills. He even transforms the anger of His enemies to praise His name. (Psalm 76:10)

The power of a volcano, a hurricane, a tornado, the power of the sun, a super nova, the spinning of the galaxies and the rise and fall of every nation are the orchestrated plans of an Almighty God. He uses all things to take His agenda forward.

And God doesn’t even need another nation to accomplish His judgment upon Assyria. He can wipe out the Assyrian army without lifting a single sword or spear.

Verse 16-18. God uses chemical warfare. Some terrible sickness attacks the Assyrian army. A child just leaning his penmanship will have the sufficient ability to calculate and write down the number of soldiers left when God is done. That’s in verse 19.

In verse 20 God starts telling us about the benefits of His ultimate cosmic power. Why should we rejoice in God’s power? Because He is working all things out for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Verse 20, In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

How sad when we mistakenly delight in that which destroys us. Alcoholics use their drink as a crutch to get through the day not acknowledging the alcohol causes their trouble. Companies go out of business because they use deceitful practices to stay afloat, not realizing that deceit is what drove away their customers. It is like many a politician who lies to stay in power, not realizing that their lies drive away their constituents.

So God sends calamity to shake us from our false confidence in earthly things. God stopped Israel from trusting in the Egyptians by helping Assyria destroying the Egyptians. God uses natural disasters, God uses financial disasters, God uses sickness and other troubles to bring us to repentance and a renewed faith in God’s power to help us.

God’s strategy worked for Israel. Verse 21. They returned to the MIGHTY GOD. And even though they were few in number, they were mighty in faith and trust in the Lord. From this  sanctified remnant arises people like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, her relative Elizabeth, Joseph and all the others in the Gospel story. God used the Assyrians to restore His people’s faith and prepare the way for the Messiah to come and die for the sins of His people.

When calamity strikes do we respond with faith or fear? If we understand His power we will trust in Him alone and cast out our idols of false security. We will trust and lean on God.

There will always be bad things happening to people on this earth. It isn’t God’s fault that people suffer. Adam and Eve are to blame for the curse of suffering and death upon humanity.

God is not the author of sin. We do that all on our own. Our sin brings suffering. We are born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward. Trouble will happen to us all.

Natural disasters don’t target anyone. They just happen.

God doesn’t teach anyone how to be a terrorists and blow things up. God didn’t help Hitler become evil. But God used all these things and more for His bidding. God rules from on high and all things are governed by His hand. He is all powerful. Even evil people serve God’s will.

This truth will either unhinge our faith or secure our peace. If life is random and there is no ultimate purpose behind the sad events of my life than I can only be filled with sorrow when I suffer. But if God is so strong and so MIGHTY, then there is no event in my life He cannot use for His glory and my good.

Yesterday an Erskine seminary student put on his Facebook page this quote, “There is no situation so chaotic that God cannot from that situation create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at the creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today.”

Your life might be filled with chaos but God the Father Almighty will create something beautiful. We must be patient and with faith look beyond our trouble to see the power of a sovereign God working all things out for His glory and our good.

Are you facing trouble today? Are you wondering if God can be found in the midst of the suffering?

Don’t be surprised when things get rough. This isn’t heaven. We are not yet home. Rather, seek God in the midst of your trial and lean on Him with all your heart.

He is not very far from any one of us.                                                                  Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.