I wish that everything we read could be positive and uplifting. Although, part of me must look for a counterbalance to very cheery literature, since some of my favorite genres--dystopian, mystery, sci-fi--can be pretty bleak. Perhaps through these various genres, we see again how fiction can get at a deeper reality, that all is not right with the world.
Isaiah 10 definitely is showing that all is not right with the world. We have two descriptions laid side-by-side: what is not right with both Israel and Assyria. Many in Israel likely would have felt that they should never have been considered in the same bucket as Assyria, and yet here they are together within the same chapter.
While we know that idolatry was also an issue in both countries, the entire list of attributes from this chapter that God says are "woeful" can be summarized in two words:
Injustice & Pride
That's a pretty good summary of what tends to be at the root of other kinds of sins and issues.
In this chapter, it's Israel that is accused of showing injustice while Assyria (specifically the king) is said to be prideful.
Here's a peek:
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Matthew Henry's commentary, among others, explains that oppression against those who lack material wealth and social strength are condemned here. The Hebrew for "rob" indicates taking by force.
So, this particular injunction is against the more egregious examples of injustice--the very intentional preying upon the helpless.
It's difficult to choose comparable examples in the United States that wouldn't have a political label attached to them. There are so many "shibboleths" (a great, Biblical Hebrew word that refers to verbal "tells"--things you say that or do that indicates to others that you belong...or don't belong...to a particular group) today. Saying a word or phrase "outs" you politically, apparently, whether or not the speaker intends it.
This is unfortunate. It means that it is extremely difficult to have bipartisan collaboration to solve serious social issues.
Still, if I were to pick an issue that ticks a lot of the boxes from this list in Isaiah, I'd identify Human Trafficking. You have corruption, poverty, and orphans all as potential elements of human trafficking. 2020 was a rough year for many, but in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, 2020 saw us listed in the Top 10 of human trafficking cities in the United States. I love this city, and it grieves me that we were on this list. This is a good month to reflect on this issue, given that January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
And, rather than share false conspiracy stories on human trafficking, one can support or join groups fighting actual trafficking. Two that come to mind for me in my social network are The Project to End Human Trafficking (https://www.endslaverynow.org/learn), started by a former colleague of mine, and the Praying Aunties Network (https://martybobb.wixsite.com/praying-aunties/our-mission)--a grassroots network of women (some of my favorite ladies on this earth!) who raise money and awareness to fight human trafficking*.
So, moving on to Isaiah's list for Assyria, the accusation is pretty succinct:
I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.
While Israel and Judah were particular areas of Biblical focus, God sees all and even seeks to teach pagan kings who hardly know Him the truth of the reality they are in. Basically, that He is God, and they are not.
This entire section is reminiscent of the book of Daniel, where Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon experiences a great humbling due to his basking in his own greatness and attributing all that he accomplished to himself. Nebuchadnezzar comes out of the experience a more humble and devout leader, which probably came as a great surprise to his administration.
Back to Assyria, multiple kings are involved since since Israel is conquered by Assyria in multiple waves. One of the kings, Sargon II, referred to himself as "King of the Universe." While not an unusual brag in the uber-macho Mesopotamian culture of the time, it doesn't sit well with the Jewish people, who refer to God as Adon Olam, Master of the Universe. What does the actual Master of the Universe have to say about the Assyrian kings' braggadocio?
Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up or a club brandish him who is not wood! Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors....
Bottom line: God doesn't like braggarts and often rectifies situations that get a little over-the-top with men claiming the place of God.
The final section of this chapter is helpfully entitled in my NIV translation, "The Remnant of Israel."
The early Christian church understood that the story of Israel set up a pattern for their own path. The remnant in Isaiah 10 refer to the survivors of this nightmare of an Assyrian invasion and assurance that while a pruning would be occurring, His people will still continue. The implication for the Christian church is the doctrine of the remnant.
Pastor and writer A.W. Tozer explains it like this:
Remnant means a small fragment, a surviving trace...This was true among the nations before Abraham; it was true of Israel after Abraham; and it is true of the Church since Pentecost. I am alarmed because it has been true since Pentecost that such a vast number of people who call themselves Christians--the overwhelming majority--are nominal, and only a remnant is saved.
Rather than being a depressing doctrine, I view it as a challenging and encouraging one. Challenging because it is a good reminder to not be complacent about one's faith and self-righteous about one's righteousness. Galatians 6:4 says,
Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else...
The doctrine is encouraging because at different timepoints in history, it gets pretty discouraging to look around at the world and feel great dismay at the behavior of Christians. The Crusades, the Inquisition...these haven't, uh, aged well. We are arguably in another timepoint where Christians are generally not seen as a group that others admire. This present view has been a long time in the making. It can be encouraging to remember that just calling oneself a Christian does not make oneself so. If it feels like you're the only one you know who cares about what the individuals in the Bible care about, history shows us time and time again that you are not alone...you're just likely in the minority among those sitting in some pews. So much for the "Moral" Majority.
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published the book, "UnChristian,"in 2007 based on survey research conducted with 16-29 year-olds at that time. Results indicated that 87% viewed Christians as being hypocritical and 75% said they were too involved in politics. Half of young evangelical Christians at that time said that adult Christians were judgmental, hypocritical, and too involved in politics.
We can quibble over the fairness of these views. However, it would have been good to have heeded these warnings back in 2007. Rather than judging those outside the Christian fold, it would have been better to apply appropriate judgement within. I Corinthians 5:12 says,
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
Let's close with a section from Tozer again:
We say, "Go down to the corner where men in half-lighted rooms sit and slurp beer; go down there, oh ye with the destroying weapon in your hand. God says, "Begin at the steps of my church. Begin with my sanctuary."
We say, "Go to the church where the pastor denies the Bible and has nothing to preach but poetry." God says, "Begin at my sanctuary." ...
I cannot stop people from doing what they are doing, but at least I can grieve because they will not stop; and I am going to do that. I am going to let my tears water the footsteps of those who go astray. And when the churches will not come back to the New Testament and worship the Lord our God in the beauty of holiness if I cannot make them do it or persuade them to do it in this awful hour of crisis, at least I can weep because they will not come. And I can sigh if I cannot weep.
*Readers, if you have other organizations that you know of that are working against human trafficking, or know of some that tackle other items on Isaiah's list, please feel free to post in the comments on this page.