Sovereign Axe Wielder
Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 10:15-19
Sermon Title: Sovereign Axe Wielder
Memory Verse: All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives. (Proverbs 16:2)
MAIN IDEA: Live according to the belief that God is sovereign over all things.
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.
Some truths about God are very difficult to accept. Our inability to understand results in hard to answer questions. For example, “If God is love, why does God allow evil in the world?” Or, “Why does God create hell and send people there for eternity?” And, “Why does God show favor to the nation of Israel, but not to every nation? Why does God elect some people and not others?”
Our passage today contains very challenging truth. Some of us are familiar with these truths and others may be hearing these for the very first time.
Let’s first read through the passage to be sure we understand it correctly.
Understand the text – What the text says
5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, 6 I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.
Isaiah turns his attention from God’s judgment upon the northern and southern kingdoms to God’s judgment on Assyria. He begins by pronouncing woe to Assyria. God is condemning Assyria.
God’s description of Assyria is interesting. Assyria is a rod and staff held in God’s hands. A rod and staff are used to punish and to guide. God is holding the nation of Assyria in His hand, and He is using it to strike His people. God’s indignation, His anger, is being channeled through Assyria to inflict harm upon His people. He wants to teach His people a lesson, so He sends Assyria to capture the belongings and to plunder the goods of God’s people.
The reason for God’s anger is that His people are godless. The irony is that we know from history that Assyria is a very godless nation. It’s like using murderers to punish jaywalkers. The Assyrians are way more godless than the people of Judah, yet God is sending the Assyrians to punish His people for being godless. They know better. They have no excuse. The people of Judah are the object of God’s fury.
God’s intention in sending the Assyrians to capture booty, seize, and plunder is to punish His people, so they repent of their godlessness and worship God as they should. The Assyrians, on the other hand, have a different intent. Their intention is not to serve God’s plan, but to destroy nations and make them part of the Assyrian empire. They are oblivious to God and His purpose.
7 Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations. 8 For it says, “Are not my princes all kings? 9 “Is not Calno like Carchemish, Or Hamath like Arpad, Or Samaria like Damascus? 10 “As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, 11 Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?”
The Assyrian king is boasting because kings of other nations he conquers serve as his princes. He is quite the victor in his mind. This business of taking land is easy. He rolls through the nations one after another.
The Assyrian king sees each victory as a victory over the god of that nation. He sees himself as more powerful than the gods. Because he defeats Samaria, which everyone knows is the same God as Jerusalem, he believes he will conquer the God of Jerusalem and her idols (perhaps the Ark of the Covenant). What the king of Assyria doesn’t know is that he is an instrument in the hand of God. He has power and victory because God gives it to him.
Because the king of Assyria boasts in his conquests and fails to recognize God’s hand in his victory, God will bring His wrath upon him.
12 So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” 13 For he has said, “By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, for I have understanding; and I removed the boundaries of the peoples and plundered their treasures, and like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants, 14 And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, and as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; and there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped.”
God is the power and wisdom behind the king of Assyria’s conquests. But, the king thinks he is quite something because conquering nations is like taking eggs from a bird’s nest. At least a bird will make a fuss and attack your hand and perhaps draw blood.
15 Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. 16 Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; and under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame. 17 And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day. 18 And He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. 19 And the rest of the trees of his forest will be so small in number that a child could write them down.
Assyria is an axe in God’s hand. It is absurd for an axe to think it does the work. The Assyrians, and their king fail to give God the glory. Therefore, the God of hosts, the one who is the true Captain of the armies, will bring defeat upon Assyria. The forest and garden represent the army and spoils of the kingdom of Assyria. God will destroy it in one day. What is remaining can be counted by a child, which means there will be very little left when God gets through. Both soul and body will be destroyed.
In summary, Isaiah 10:5-19 speaks on how God uses Assyria to punish the people of Judah. Assyria will not defeat Judah but will inflict serious harm. God’s purpose in using Assyria is to sanctify His people. Assyria doesn’t acknowledge that God is in control. They boast and take the credit when the glory belongs to God. Because they fail to give God the glory, once God is finished using Assyria as His instrument, God will pour out His wrath upon Assyria for their intent to conquer nations.
We find five major theological truths in this passage. If we can believe these truths, God will be our treasure and joy. In other words, receiving these truths in faith will cause us to increase our love and appreciation for God and His character. After looking at the truths, we will talk about how we may apply these truths in our lives.
1) God ordains the future
This passage is telling us what God will do. It has not yet happened. Isaiah hears from God, and he is prophesying years in advance of what God will do. Some people will say that God predicts the future with prophecy because God is omniscient (all-knowing). Isaiah reveals God ordains the future because God is omnipotent (all-powerful).
Isaiah reveals that God is the one who makes the future happen. There is a big difference between predicting the future and causing events in the future to take place. We only need to look at the dates of when Isaiah is written and the dates of Assyria’s downfall to see God made it happen.
2) God punishes godlessness and arrogance in believers and unbelievers
This truth is evident throughout the book of Isaiah. We see it again in this passage. We’ve talked about this point in previous sermons, so we will not spend time on it this morning. Except to say this: the frequency and severity of God’s judgment against pride ought to give us reason to stop and think.
3) God’s work is life for some and death to others.
We read in this passage that God intends to punish His children for their benefit, and God punishes unbelievers for their condemnation.
The Assyrian rod and staff inflicting wounds on God’s people is intended for sanctification. God uses Assyria for their good. At the same time, the wounds which the Assyrians inflict on the other nations is for their condemnation. God uses the same act to judge Assyria.
Verses 16-17 speak about the light of Israel. Throughout the book of Isaiah, the light of Israel is always working for the good for Israel. The light guides God’s people out of the darkness and leads them to salvation. The light of Israel has an opposite purpose for the enemies of God. To the Assyrians, the light of Israel is an avenging fire of damnation. God uses the light of Israel as life for His people and death for His enemies.
4) God will judge our motives.
The passage talks about a single event, the chopping of an axe. which is the plundering of the Assyrian army in Judah. Behind the axe chopping is a Puppeteer and a puppet and each has a different motive.
God is the puppeteer using the puppet to punish His people with the intent of bringing about repentance. God’s motive with the puppet is good. The king of Assyria, the puppet, is working in Judah for personal gain and glory.
God will judge the king of Assyria for his selfish motives. The puppet may not stand before God’s throne and say, “How can you condemn me? I am only a puppet in Your sovereign control!” But, God sees his heart motive. God knows the puppet is not seeking to glorify God. The puppet is seeking his own glory.
When Joseph faces his brothers, who sold him into Egyptian slavery, Joseph says:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)
God is working in people to accomplish His will. God will not judge what we do. God supplies the power, talent, knowledge, and the breath needed to live. The only thing God does not give us is our motive.
5) God sovereignly controls all things, including acts of evil, to accomplish His purpose and plan.
We are joyful when God controls the universe for our good. We like it when God providently puts food on our table. We rejoice when God providentially heals our sickness or blesses us with a baby. We rejoice in knowing God sovereignly controls all things to accomplish His purpose and plan, provided it turns out good for us.
What if we live in Judah during the time of the Assyrian plundering? Do we rejoice when the Assyrians come into our home and take our belongings? Are we happy to look out the window and see the Assyrian army trampling through the streets? Are thankful for Isaiah when he tells us God is behind the atrocities committed by the Assyrians?
It is easy to sit here and accept the truth God uses acts of evil for His purpose; provided we are not on the receiving end of an act of evil.
This is a challenging truth, but it is truth nonetheless. God is the source of all power and authority. He gives power and authority and removes power and authority at will. There is no power or authority outside of God’s sovereignty.
Think of the alternative. There is no comfort or joy if dictators are acting outside of God’s control. There is no peace if ISIS or terrorists are in control and God is not.
Evil people walk according to the prince of darkness, and they are children of disobedience. They live under the control and influence of Satan (Eph. 2:2). Satan does nothing outside of God’s consent.
All that we see happening in this world today, whether good or evil, is God working to accomplish His purpose and plan.
Applying These Truths to Our Lives
Doctrine is instruction. We need to move beyond just knowing these truths to living our life according to these truths. The main idea of the message is this:
MAIN IDEA: Live according to the belief that God is sovereign over all things.
1) God ordains the future; therefore, rejoice knowing there is nothing outside of God’s control.
God is using all His power and authority to put all things under the feet of Jesus. One day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. When we place our hope and confidence in Christ to save us, we have put our trust in the right place.
Ephesians says in the present tense that we are together alive, risen, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, because it is as good as done. Our hope and confidence is secure. Rejoice knowing our faith is in the hands of Him who holds the future.
2) God will punish godlessness and pride; therefore, be humble
Our godlessness and pride will never bring us the happiness we seek. Godlessness and pride blind our eyes, so we may not see God clearly or enjoy His fellowship. Pride is a heavy weight keeping us from running the race of joy. God knows what will give us ultimate joy, happiness, peace, and safety. Therefore, for our joy, don’t resist God’s work to remove godlessness and pride. Be humble.
3) God’s work is life for some and death to others; therefore, know that not all people rejoice in God’s work.
Jesus is a sword that divides. To some, Jesus is a curse. To those who are being saved, Jesus is a blessing to be enjoyed. Do not be surprised when people don’t find joy in Jesus. Paul tells the Corinthians:
For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (2 Co. 2:15-16)
We need to know that not all people rejoice in Christ.
4) God will judge our motives; therefore, be willing to examine our motives.
We may be doing a good deed in the eyes of men; appearing to be accomplishing God’s will. However, God will look at our heart.
All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2).
It is always healthy to stop and examine our heart and to ask ourselves, why am I doing this work? Am I seeking the praise of men? Do I seek to glorify God? Am I hoping people will think better of me? Do I hope to get personal gain and comfort? Am I trying to prove how good I am? These are hard questions, but worthy of asking.
Our motives ought to be to know Christ and to bring Him glory. Ask God for help in making sure our motives are right before Him.
5) God sovereignly use all things to accomplish His purpose and plan; therefore, believe all things are working for good.
It is very hard to understand how God is using all things, including evil, for good. But, He does. There is nothing outside of His control.
This means that we need to be very careful about our complaining and grumbling. If everything is under God’s control, it means that we have no right to grumble or complain. God’s wisdom is higher than our wisdom. Sometimes, a two-year old acts like taking a bath is an evil punishment. But, the parent means it for good. The parent knows best.
Sometimes it is very hard to not complain or to be thankful. How many people in Judah were praising God during the Assyrian invasion? We are to be thankful and praise God in all things knowing everything is part of God’s plan. We don’t have to throw a party during tragic events, but we need do need to still love our God and know He is good.
While we are in the midst of difficulty, it is permissible to pray and ask God to remove the suffering and pain. Paul asks God to remove the thorn in the flesh. Jesus asks the Father to take away His cup of suffering if it is His will. We are not called to enjoy pain and suffering, but we are called not to complain.
Rejoice in God’s Sovereignty
In closing, let’s listen to a story which speaks about God using evil to accomplish His purpose and plan.
There was a man born in a small village. He came from a good family. He was always polite and kind to his neighbors. He was a good man. He worked as a teacher. Children loved him. On occasion, he gave food to the poor. He was very tender-hearted and did what he could to show compassion to those who he knew to be sick.
We might think that because he is such a good guy, that everyone will like him. But, some people are just plain evil. A few guys from across town decided to hurt him. They went to the police station and brought people that they paid to make horrible false accusations. They told everyone about these accusations, and before you know it, everyone turned against the man. He was arrested, had a trial, and was executed because the accusations were worthy of the death penalty.
The man’s friends and family were devastated. How could such an injustice take place? They knew he was innocent. It was a travesty.
After his death, one of his friends spoke in the public square about his murder. His words spoken to the people in the city are recorded in the history books. Here is what he said:
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:22-23)
Godless men nailed Jesus to the cross. Godless men murdered an innocent man. They will be judged for murdering God. It is the greatest act of injustice in history. But, their act of murder is according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.
God predetermined the murder of His innocent Son. Praise God that the evil murder of His Son is not outside of God’s control. God takes the very worst of evil and He can transform it to good. Give God the glory!